by Max Beerbohm
By the same Author
"He has achieved a masterpiece.
He has written a book in which wit
and invention never flag, a book tfrat
is sheer delight from cover to cover."
"'Max' would not be the best of
all caricaturists if his caricatures
were not beautiful, and it is because
they are beautiful with a beauty
never irrelevant that they give us so
much delight ... his art would be
spoilt by any taint of personal malice,
and that we never find in it."
A Christmas Garland
This book contains the most bril-
liant of Max Beerbohm's exercises in
the gentle art of parody. The subjects
include Henry James, Rudyard Kip-
ling, A. C. Benson, H. G. Wells, G. K.
Chesterton, ThomaB Hardy, Frank
Harris, Arnold Bennett, John Gals-
worthy, G. S. Street, Joseph Conrad,
Edmund Gosse, Hilaire Belloc, G. B.
Shaw, Maurice Hewlett, George
Moore, and George Meredith.
*)<c ^m; i -'^ , > ^^ \ wins, o-i. wcv^o^Jr
By the same Author
THE WORKS OP MAX BEERBOHM
A CHRISTMAS GARLAND
THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE
CARICATURES OP TWENTY-PIVE
THE POET'S CORNER
THE SECOND CHILDHOOD OP JOHN
A BOOK OP CARICATURES
^ , ^ ^^ x
c^ v '
■3 • ^ J^"
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
q. ->•* XS-* \ ^
/- . First published October 1919
«w Impression February 1920
ENOCH SOAMES 1
HILARY MALTBY and
STEPHEN BRAXTON 49
JAMES PETHEL 105
A. V, LAIDER 137
'SAVONAROLA' BROWN *y 173 .
WHEN a book about the literature of the
eighteen-nineties was given by Mr. Hol-
brook Jackson to the world, I looked
eagerly in the index for Soames, Enoch. I had
feared he would not be there. He was not there.
But everybody else was. Many writers whom I had
quite forgotten, or remembered but faintly, lived
again for me, they and their work, in Mr. Holbrook
Jackson's pages. The book was as thorough as it
was brilliantly written. And thus the omission
found by me was an all the deadlier record of poor
Soames' failure to impress himself on his decade.
I daresay I am the only person who noticed the
omission. Soames had failed so piteously as all
that ! Nor is there a counterpoise in the thought
that if he had had some measure of success he might
have passed, like those others, out of my mind, to
return only at the historian's beck. It is true that
had his gifts, such as they were, been acknowledged
in his life-time, he would never have made the
bargain I saw him make — that strange bargain
whose results have kept him always in the fore-
ground of my memory. But it is from those very
results that the full piteousness of him glares out.
Not my compassion, however, impels me to write
of him. For his sake, poor fellow, I should be
inclined to keep my pen out of the ink. It is ill
to deride the dead. And how can I write about
Enoch Soames without making him ridiculous ?
Or rather, how am I to hush up the horrid fact that
he was ridiculous ? I shall not be able to do that.
Yet, sooner or later, write about him 1 must. You
will see, in due course, that I have no option. And
I may as well get the thing done now.
In the Summer Term of '93 a bolt from the blue
flashed down on Oxford. It drove deep, it hurtlingly
embedded itself in the soil. Dons and under-
graduates stood around, rather pale, discussing
nothing but it. Whence came it, this meteorite ?
From Paris. Its name ? Will Rothenstein. Its
aim ? To do a series of twenty-four portraits in
lithograph. These were to be published from the
Bodley Head, London. The matter was urgent.
Already the Warden of A, and the Master of B, and
the Regius Professor of C, had meekly ' sat.' Digni-
fied and doddering old men, who had never consented
to sit to any one, could not withstand this dynamic
little stranger. He did not sue : he invited ; he
did not invite : he commanded. He was twenty-
one years old. He wore spectacles that flashed
more than any other pair ever seen. He was a wit.
He was brimful of ideas. He knew Whistler. He
knew Edmond de Goncotirt. He knew every one in
Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris
in Oxford. It was whispered that, so soon as he
had polished off his selection of dons, he was going
to include a few undergraduates. It was a proud
day for me when I — I — was included. I liked
Rothenstein not less than I feared him ; and there
arose between us a friendship that has grown ever
warmer, and been more and more valued by me,
with every passing year.
At the end of Term he settled in — or rather,
meteoritically into — London. It was to him I owed
my first knowledge of that forever enchanting little
world-in-itself, Chelsea, and my first acquaintance
with Walter Sickert and other august elders who
dwelt there. It was Rothenstein that took me to
see, in Cambridge Street, Pimlico, a young man
whose drawings were already famous among the few
— Aubrey Beardsley, by name. With Rothenstein
I paid my first visit to the Bodley Head. By him I
was inducted into another haunt of intellect and
daring, the domino room of the Cafe Royal.
There, on that October evening — there, in that
exuberant vista of gilding and crimson velvet set
amidst all those opposing mirrors and upholding
caryatids, with fumes of tobacco ever rising to the
painted and pagan ceiling, and with the hum of
presumably cynical conversation broken into so
sharply now and again by the clatter of dominoes
shuffled on marble tables, I drew a deep breath, and
4 This indeed,' said I to myself, 4 is life ! '
It was the hour before dinner. We drank ver-
mouth. Those who knew Rothenstein were pointing
him out to those who knew him only by name. Men
were constantly coming in through the swing-doors
and wandering slowly up and down in search of
vacant tables, or of tables occupied by friends. One
of these rovers interested me because I was sure he
wanted to catch Rothenstein's eye. He had twice
passed our table, with a hesitating look ; but
Rothenstein, in the thick of a disquisition on Puvis
de Chavannes, had not seen him. He was a stoop-
ing, shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with
longish and brownish hair. He had a thin vague
beard — or rather, he had a chin on which a large
number of hairs weakly curled and clustered to
cover its retreat. He was an odd-looking person ;
but in the 'nineties odd apparitions were more
frequent, I think, than they are now. The young
writers of that era — and I was sure this man was a
writer — strove earnestly to be distinct in aspect.
This man had striven unsuccessfully. He wore a
soft black hat of clerical kind but of Bohemian
intention, and a grey waterproof cape which,
perhaps because it was waterproof, failed to be
romantic. I decided that ' dim ' was the mot juste
for him. I had already essayed to write, and was
immensely keen on the mot juste, that Holy Grail of
The dim man was now again approaching our
table, and this time he made up his mind to pause
in front of it. ' You don't remember me,' he said
in a toneless voice.
Rothenstein brightly focussed him. 4 Yes, I do/
he replied after a moment, with pride rather than
effusion — pride in a retentive memory. ' Edwin
4 Enoch Soames,' said Enoch.
4 Enoch Soames,' repeated Rothenstein in a tone
implying that it was enough to have hit on the
surname. 4 We met in Paris two or three times
when you were living there. We met at the Cafe
4 And I came to your studio once.'
4 Oh yes ; I was sorry I was out.'
4 But you were in. You showed me some of your
paintings, you know. . . I hear you're in Chelsea
I almost wondered that Mr. Soames did not, after
this monosyllable, pass along. He stood patiently
there, rather like a dumb animal, rather like a
donkey looking over a gate. A sad figure, his. It
occurred to me that 4 hungry ' was perhaps the mot
juste for him ; but — hungry for what ? He looked
as if he had little appetite for anything. I was sorry
for him ; and Rothenstein, though he had not
invited him to Chelsea, did ask him to sit down and
have something to drink.
Seated, he was more self-assertive. He flung
back the wings of his cape with a gesture which —
had not those wings been waterproof — might have
seemed to hurl defiance at things in general. And
he ordered an absinthe. 4 Je me tiens toujour s
fidele,' he told Rothenstein, 4 a la sorciere glauque.'
4 It is bad for you/ said Rothenstein dryly.
4 Nothing is bad for one,' answered Soames.
4 Dans ce monde il rCy a ni de Men ni de mal?
4 Nothing good and nothing bad ? How do you
mean ? '
4 1 explained it all in the preface to " Negations." '
4 44 Negations " ? '
4 Yes ; I gave you a copy of it.'
4 Oh yes, of course. But did you explain — for
instance — that there was no such thing as bad or
good grammar ? '
4 N-no,' said Soames. 4 Of course in Art there is
the good and the evil. But in Life — no.' He was
rolling a cigarette. He had weak white hands, not
well washed, and with finger-tips much stained by
nicotine. 4 In Life there are illusions of good and
evil, but ' — his voice trailed away to a murmur in
which the words 4 vieux jeu ' and ' rococo ' were
faintly audible. I think he felt he was not doing
himself justice, and feared that Rothenstein was
going to point out fallacies. Anyhow, he cleared
his throat and said 4 Parlous d'autre chose.''
It occurs to you that he was a fool ? It didn't to
me. I was young, and had not the clarity of
judgment that Rothenstein already had. Soames
was quite five or six years older than either of us.
Also, he had written a book.
It was wonderful to have written a book.
If Rothenstein had not been there, I should have
revered Soames. Even as it was, I respected him.
And I was very near indeed to reverence when he
said he had another book coming out soon. I asked
if I might ask what kind of book it was to be.
4 My poems,' he answered. Rothenstein asked if
this was to be the title of the book. The poet
meditated on this suggestion, but said he rather
thought of giving the book no title at all. ' If a
book is good in itself — ' he murmured, waving his
Rothenstein objected that absence of title might
be bad for the sale of a book. ' If,' he urged, ' I
went into a bookseller's and said simply " Have
you got ? " or " Have you a copy of ? " how would
they know what I wanted ? '
1 Oh, of course I should have my name on the
cover,' Soames answered earnestly. i And I rather
want,' he added, looking hard at Rothenstein, * to
have a drawing of myself as frontispiece.' Rothen-
stein admitted that this was a capital idea, and
mentioned that he was going into the country and
would be there for some time. He then looked at
his watch, exclaimed at the hour, paid the waiter,
and went away with me to dinner. Soames remained
at his post of fidelity to the glaucous witch.
* Why were you so determined not to draw him ? '
4 Draw him ? Him ? How can one draw a man
who doesn't exist ? '
4 He is dim,' I admitted. But my mot juste fell
flat. Rothenstein repeated that Soames was non-
Still, Soames had written a book. I asked if
Rothenstein had read ' Negations.' He said he had
looked into it, 4 but,' he added crisply, 4 1 don't
profess to know anything about writing.' A reser-
vation very characteristic of the period ! Painters
would not then allow that any one outside their
own order had a right to any opinion about painting.
This law (graven on the tablets brought down by
Whistler from the summit of Fujiyama) imposed
certain limitations. If other arts than painting were
not utterly unintelligible to all but the men who
practised them, the law tottered — the Monroe Doc-
trine, as it were, did not hold good. Therefore no
painter would offer an opinion of a book without
warning you at any rate that his opinion was
worthless. No one is a better judge of literature
than Rothenstein ; but it wouldn't have done to tell
him so in those days ; and I knew that I must form
an unaided judgment on 4 Negations.'
Not to buy a book of which I had met the author
face to face would have been for me in those days
an impossible act of self-denial. When I returned
to Oxford for the Christmas Term I had duly
secured i Negations.' I used to keep it lying care-
lessly on the table in my room, and whenever a
friend took it up and asked what it was about I
would say ' Oh, it's rather a remarkable book. It's
by a man whom I know.' Just ' what it was about '
I never was able to say. Head or tail was just what
I hadn't made of that slim green volume. I found
in the preface no clue to the exiguous labyrinth of
contents, and in that labyrinth nothing to explain
1 Lean near to life. Lean very near — nearer.
* Life is web, and therein nor warp nor woof is, but
4 It is for this I am Catholick in church and in
thought, yet do let swift Mood weave there what the
shuttle of Mood wills.''
These were the opening phrases of the preface,
but those which followed were less easy to under-
stand. Then came ' Stark : A Conte,' about a
midinette who, so far as I could gather, murdered,
or was about to murder, a mannequin. It was
rather like a story by Catulle Mend£s in which the
translator had either skipped or cut out every
alternate sentence. Next, a dialogue between Pan
and St. Ursula — lacking, I felt, in * snap.' Next,
some aphorisms (entitled oKpopla-imaTa). Throughout,
in fact, there was a great variety of form ; and the
forms had evidently been wrought with much care.
It was rather the substance that eluded me. Was
there, I wondered, any substance at all ? It did
now occur to me : suppose Enoch Soames was a
fool ! Up cropped a rival hypothesis : suppose /
was ! I inclined to give Soames the benefit of the
doubt. I had read i L'Apres-midi d'un Faune '
without extracting a glimmer of meaning. Yet
Mallarme — of course — was a Master. How was I to
know that Soames wasn't another ? There was a
sort of music in his prose, not indeed arresting, but
perhaps, I thought, haunting, and laden perhaps
with meanings as deep as Mallarme's own. I
awaited his poems with an open mind.
And I looked forward to them with positive
impatience after I had had a second meeting with
him. This was, on an evening in January. Going
into the aforesaid domino room, I passed a table at
which sat a pale man with an open book before him.
He looked from his book to me, and I looked back
over my shoulder with a vague sense that I ought
\o have recognised him. I returned to pay my
respects. After exchanging a few words, I said
with a glance to the open book, ' I see I am inter-
rupting you,' and was about to pass on, but ' I
prefer,' Soames replied in his toneless voice, c to be
interrupted,' and I obeyed his gesture that I should
I asked him if he often read here. 4 Yes ; things
of this kind I read here,' he answered, indicating the
title of his book — ' The Poems of Shelley.'
4 Anything that you really ' — and I was going to
say ' admire ? ' But I cautiously left my sentence
unfinished, and was glad that I had done so, for he
said, with unwonted emphasis, 4 Anything second-
I had read little of Shelley, but * Of course,' I
murmured, 4 he's very uneven.'
4 1 should have thought evenness was just what
was wrong with him. A deadly evenness. That's
why I read him here. The noise of this place breaks
the rhythm. He's tolerable here.' Soames took up
the book and glanced through the pages. He
laughed. Soames' laugh was a short, single and
mirthless sound from the throat, unaccompanied by
any movement of the face or brightening of the eyes.
4 What a period ! ' he uttered, laying the book
down. And 4 What a country ! ' he added.
I asked rather nervously if he didn't think Keats
had more or less held his own against the drawbacks
of time and place. He admitted that there were
4 passages in Keats,' but did not specify them. Of
4 the older men,' as he called them, he seemed to like
only Milton. 4 Milton,' he said, 4 wasn't senti-
mental.' Also, 4 Milton had a dark insight.' And
again, 4 1 can always read Milton in the reading-
4 The reading-room ? '
4 Of the British Museum. I go there every day.'
4 You do ? I've only been there once. I'm afraid
I found it rather a depressing place. It — it seemed
to sap one's vitality.'
4 It does. That's why I go there. The lower one's
vitality, the more sensitive one is to great art. I
live near the Museum. I have rooms in Dyott
* And you go round to the reading-room to read
Milton ? '
1 Usually Milton.' He looked at me. ' It was
Milton,' he certificatively added, 4 who converted me
4 Diabolism ? Oh yes ? Really ? ' said I, with
that vague discomfort and that intense desire to be
polite which one feels when a man speaks of his own
religion. 4 You — worship the Devil ? '
Soames shook his head. 4 It's not exactly wor-
ship,' he qualified, sipping his absinthe. 4 It's more
a matter of trusting and encouraging.'
1 Ak, yes. . . But I had rather gathered from
the preface to " Negations " that you were a — a
4 Je VStais a cette Spoque. Perhaps I still am.
Yes, I'm a Catholic Diabolist.'
This profession he made in an almost cursory
tone. I could see that what was upmost in his mind
was the fact that I had read 4 Negations.' His pale
eyes had for the first time gleamed. I felt as one
who is about to be examined, viva voce, on the very
subject in which he is shakiest. I hastily asked him
how soon his po«ms were to be published. 4 Next
week,' he told me.
4 And are they to be published without a title ? '
4 No. I found a title, at last. But I shan't tell
you what it is,' as though I had been so impertinent
as to inquire. ' I am not sure that it wholly satisfies
me. But it is the best I can find. It suggests
something of the quality of the poems. . . Strange
growths, natural and wild, yet exquisite,' he added,
4 and many-hued, and full of poisons.'
I asked him what he thought of Baudelaire. He
uttered the snort that was his laugh, and 4 Baude-
laire,' he said, ' was a bourgeois malgri luV France
had had only one poet : Villon ; ' and two-thirds of
Villon were sheer journalism.' Verlaine was ■ an
epicier malgri lui.' Altogether, rather to my sur-
prise, he rated French literature lower than English.
There were ' passages ' in Villiers de PIsle-Adam.
But 'I,' he summed up, ■ owe nothing to France.'
He nodded at me. ' You'll see,' he predicted.
I did not, when the time came, quite see that. I
thought the author of ' Fungoids ' did — uncon-
sciously, of course — owe something to the young
Parisian decadents, or to the young English ones
who owed something to them. I still think so. The
little book — bought by me in Oxford — lies before
me as I write. Its pale grey buckram cover and
silver lettering have not worn well. Nor have its
contents. Through these, with a melancholy in-
terest, I have again been looking. They are not
much. But at the time of their publication I had
a vague suspicion that they might be. I suppose it
is my capacity for faith, not poor Soames' work,
that is weaker than it once was. . .
To a Young Woman.
Thou art, who hast not been !
Pale tunes irresolute
And traceries of old sounds
Blown from a rotted flute
Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust,
Nor not strange forms and epicene
Lie bleeding in the dust,
Being wounded with wounds.
For this it is
That in thy counterpart
Of age-long mockeries
Thou hast not been nor art !
There seemed to me a certain inconsistency as
between the first and last lines of this. I tried, with
bent brows, to resolve the discord. But I did not
take my failure as wholly incompatible with a
meaning in Soames' mind. Might it not rather
indicate the depth of his meaning ? As for the
craftsmanship, ' rouged with rust ' seemed to me a
fine stroke, and • nor not ' instead of ' and * had a
curious felicity. I wondered who the Young Woman
was, and what she had made of it all. I sadly
suspect that Soames could not have made more of
it than she. Yet, even now, if one doesn't try to
make any sense at all of the poem, and reads it just
for the sound, there is a certain grace of cadence.
Soames was an artist — in so far as he was anything,
poor fellow !
It seemed to me, when first I read ' Fungoids,'
that, oddly enough, the Diabolistic side of him was
the best. Diabolism seemed to be a cheerful, even
a wholesome, influence in his life.
Round and round the shutter'd Square
I stroll'd with the Devil's arm in mine.
No sound but the scrape of his hoofs was there
And the ring of his laughter and mine.
We had drunk black wine.
/ scream 'd, 1 1 will race you, Master ! '
1 What matter S he shriek' d, ' to-night
Which of us runs the faster ?
There is nothing to fear to-night
In the foul moon's light ! '
Then I look'd him in the eyes,
And I laugh'd full shrill at the lie he told
And the gnawing fear he would fain disguise.
It was true, what I'd time and again been told :
He was old — old. v
There was, I felt, quite a swing about that first
stanza — a joyous and rollicking note of comradeship.
The second was slightly hysterical perhaps. But I
liked the third : it was so bracingly unorthodox,
even according to the tenets of Soames' peculiar
sect in the faith. Not much ' trusting and encou-
raging ' here ! Soames triumphantly exposing the
Devil as a liar, and laughing ' full shrill,' cut a quite
heartening figure, I thought — then ! Now, in the
light of what befell, none of his poems depresses me
so much as 4 Nocturne.'
I looked out for what the metropolitan reviewers
would have to say. They seemed to fall into two
classes : those who had little to say and those who
had nothing. The second class was the larger, and
the words of the first were cold ; insomuch that
Strikes a note of modernity throughout. . . . These
tripping numbers. — Preston Telegraph
was the only lure offered in advertisements by
Soames' publisher. I had hoped that when next I
met the poet I could congratulate him on having
made a stir ; for I fancied he was not so sure of his
intrinsic greatness as he seemed. I was but able to
say, rather coarsely, when next I did see him, that
I hoped ' Fungoids * was ' selling splendidly.' He
looked at me across his glass of absinthe and asked
if I had bought a copy. His publisher had told him
that three had been sold. I laughed, as at a jest.
4 You don't suppose I care, do you ? ' he said,
with something like a snarl. I disclaimed the
notion. He added that he was not a tradesman.
I said mildly that I wasn't, either, and murmured
that an artist who gave truly new and great things
to the world had always to wait long for recognition.
He said he cared not a sou for recognition. I agreed
that the act of creation was its own reward.
His moroseness might have alienated me if I had
regarded myself as a nobody. But ah ! hadn't both
John Lane and Aubrey Beardsley suggested that I
should write an essay for the great new venture
that was afoot— 4 The Yellow Book ' ? And hadn't
Henry Harland, as editor, accepted my essay ?
And wasn't it to be in the very first number ? At
Oxford I was still in statu pupillari. In London I
regarded myself as very much indeed a graduate
now — one whom no Soames could ruffle. Partly to
show off, partly in sheer good-will, I told Soames he
ought to contribute to ' The Yellow Book.' He
uttered from the throat a sound of scorn for that
Nevertheless, I did, a day or two later, tentatively
ask Harland if he knew anything of the work of a
man called Enoch Soames. Harland paused in the
midst of his characteristic stride around the room,
threw up his hands towards the ceiling, and groaned
aloud : he had often met 4 that absurd creature ' in
Paris, and this very morning had received some
poems in manuscript from him.
* Has he no talent ? ' I asked.
4 He has an income. He's all right.' Harland
was the most joyous of men and most generous of
critics, and he hated to talk of anything about
which he couldn't be enthusiastic. So I dropped
the subject of Soames. The news that Soames had
an income did take the edge off solicitude. I
learned afterwards that he was the son of an unsuc-
cessful and deceased bookseller in Preston, but had
inherited an annuity of £300 from a married aunt,
and had no surviving relatives of any kind.
Materially, then, he was ' all right.' But there was
still a spiritual pathos about him, sharpened for me
now by the possibility that even the praises of The
Preston Telegraph might not have been forthcoming
had he not been the son of a Preston man. He had
a sort of weak doggedness which I could not but
admire. Neither he nor his work received the
slightest encouragement ; but he persisted in
behaving as a personage : always he kept his dingy
little flag flying. Wherever congregated the jeunes
feroces of the arts, in whatever Soho restaurant they
had just discovered, in whatever music-hall they
were most frequenting, there was Soames in the
midst of them, or rather on the fringe of them, a
dim but inevitable figure. He never sought to
propitiate his fellow- writers, never bated a jot of
his arrogance about his own work or of his contempt
for theirs. To the painters he was respectful, even
humble ; but for the poets and prosaists of ' The
Yellow Book,' and later of 4 The Savoy,' he had
never a word but of scorn. He wasn't resented. It
didn't occur to anybody that he or his Catholic
Diabolism mattered. When, in the autumn of '96,
he brought out (at his own expense, this time) a
third book, his last book, nobody said a word for or
against it. I meant, but forgot, to buy it. I never
saw it, and am ashamed to say I don't even remember
what it was called. But I did, at the time of its
publication, say to Rothenstein that I thought poor
old Soames was really a rather tragic figure, and
that I believed he would literally die for want of
recognition. Rothenstein scoffed. He said I was
trying to get credit for a kind heart which I didn't
possess ; and perhaps this was so. But at the
private view of the New English Art Club, a few
weeks later, I beheld a pastel portrait of ' Enoch
Soames, Esq.' It was very like him, and very like
Rothenstein to have done it. Soames was standing
near it, in his soft hat and his waterproof cape, all
through the afternoon. Anybody who knew him
would have recognised the portrait at a glance, but
nobody who didn't know him would have recognised
the portrait from its bystander : it * existed ' so
much more than he ; it was bound to. Also, it
had not that expression of faint happiness which on
this day was discernible, j^es, in Soames' countenance.
Fame had breathed on him. Twice again in the
course of the month I went to the New English, and
on both occasions Soames himself was on view
there. Looking back, I regard the close of that
exhibition as having been virtually the close of his
career. He had felt the breath of Fame against bis
cheek — so late, for such a little while ; and at its
withdrawal he gave in, gave up, gave out. He, who
had never looked strong or well, looked ghastly now
— a shadow of the shade he had once been. He
still frequented the domino room, but, having lost
all wish to excite curiosity, he no longer read books
there. ' You read only at the Museum now ? '
asked I, with attempted cheerfulness. He said he
never went there now. ' No absinthe there, 5 he
muttered. It was the sort of thing that in the old
days he would have said for effect ; but it carried
conviction now. Absinthe, erst but a point in the
1 personality ' he had striven so hard to build up,
was solace and necessity now. He no longer called
it ' la sorciere glauque.' He had shed away all his
French phrases. He had become a plain, unvar-
nished, Preston man.
Failure, if it be a plain, unvarnished, complete
failure, and even though it be a squalid failure, has
always a certain dignity. I avoided Soames because
he made me feel rather vulgar. John Lane had
published, by this time, two little books of mine,
and they had had a pleasant little success of esteem.
I was a — slight but definite — ' personality.' Frank
Harris had engaged me to kick up my heels in The
Saturday Review, Alfred Harmsworth was letting me
do likewise in The Daily Mail. I was just what
Soames wasn't. And he shamed my gloss. Had I
known that he really and firmly believed in the
greatness of what he as an artist had achieved, I
might not have shunned him. No man who hasn't
lost his vanity can be held to have altogether failed.
Soames' dignity was an illusion of mine. One day
in the first week of June, 1897, that illusion went.
But on the evening of that day Soames went too.
I had been out most of the morning, and, as it
was too late to reach home in time for luncheon, I
sought ' the Vingtieme.' This little place — Res-
taurant du Vingtieme Siecle, to give it its full title
— had been discovered in '96 by the poets and
prosaists, but had now been more or less abandoned
in favour of some later find. I don't think it lived
long enough to justify its name ; but at that time
there it still was, in Greek Street, a few doors from
Soho Square, and almost opposite to that house
where, in the first years of the century, a little girl,
and with her a boy named De Quincey, made
nightly encampment in darkness and hunger among
dust and rats and old legal parchments. The
Vingtieme was but a small whitewashed room,
leading out into the street at one end and into a
kitchen at the other. The proprietor and cook was
a Frenchman, known to us as Monsieur Vingtieme ;
the waiters were his two daughters, Rose and
Berthe ; and the food, according to faith, was good.
The tables were so narrow, and were set so close
together, that there was space for twelve of them,
six jutting from either wall.
Only the two nearest to the door, as I went in,
were occupied. On one side sat a tall, flashy,
rather Mephistophelian man whom I had seen from
time to time in the domino room and elsewhere.
On the other side sat Soames. They made a queer
contrast in that sunlit room — Soames sitting haggard
in that hat and cape which nowhere at any season
had I seen him doff, and this other, this keenly vital
man, at sight of whom I more than ever wondered
whether he were a diamond merchant, a conjurer, or
the head of a private detective agency. I was sure
Soames didn't want my company ; but I asked, as
it would have seemed brutal not to, whether I might
join him, and took the chair opposite to his. He
was smoking a cigarette, with an untasted salmi of
something on his plate and a half-empty bottle of
Sauterne before him ; and he was quite silent. I
said that the preparations for the Jubilee made
London impossible. (I rather liked them, really.)
I professed a wish to go right away till the whole
thing was over. In vain did I attune myself to his
gloom. He seemed not to hear me nor even to see
me. I felt that his behaviour made me ridiculous
in the eyes of the other man. The gangway between
the two rows of tables at the Vingtieme was hardly
more than two feet wide (Rose and Berthe, in their
ministrations, had always to edge past each other,
quarrelling in whispers as they did so), and any one
at the table abreast of yours was practically at
yours. I thought our neighbour was amused at my
failure to interest Soames, and so, as I could not
explain to him that my insistence was merely
charitable, I became silent. Without turning my
head, I had him well within my range of vision. I
hoped I looked less vulgar than he in contrast with
Soames. 1 was sure he was not an Englishman,
but what was his nationality ? Though his jet-
black hair was en brosse, I did not think he was
French. To Berthe, who waited on him, he spoke
French fluently, but with a hardly native idiom and
accent. I gathered that this was his first visit to
the Vingtieme ; but Berthe was off-hand in her
manner to him : he had not made a good impression.
His eyes were handsome, but — like the Vingtieme's
tables — too narrow and set too close together. His
nose was predatory, and the points of his moustache,
waxed up beyond his nostrils, gave a fixity to his
smile. Decidedly, he was sinister. And my sense
of discomfort in his presence was intensified by the
scarlet waistcoat which tightly, and so unseasonably
in June, sheathed his ample chest. This waistcoat
wasn't wrong merely because of the heat, either. It
was somehow all wrong in itself. It wouldn't have
done on Christmas morning. It would have struck
a jarring note at the first night of * Hernani.' I was
trying to account for its wrongness when Soames
suddenly and strangely broke silence. * A hundred
years hence ! ' he murmured, as in a trance.
4 We shall not be here ! ' I briskly but fatuously
1 We shall not be here. No,' he droned, * but the
Museum will still be just where it is. And the
reading-room, just where it is. And people will be
able to go and read there.' He inhaled sharply, and
a spasm as of actual pain contorted his features.
I wondered what train of thought poor Soames
had been following. He did not enlighten me when
he said, after a long pause, 4 You think I haven't
4 Minded what, Soames ? '
4 Neglect. Failure.'
4 Failure ? ' I said heartily. 4 Failure ?' I re-
peated vaguely. 4 Neglect — yes, perhaps ; but that's
quite another matter. Of course you haven't been
— appreciated. But what then ? Any artist who
— who gives — ' What I wanted to say was, 4 Any
artist who gives truly new and great things to the
world has always to wait long for recognition ' ; but
the flattery would not out : in the face of his misery,
a misery so genuine and so unmasked, my lips would
not say the words.
And then — he said them for me. I flushed.
4 That's what you were going to say, isn't it ? ' he
4 How did you know ? '
4 It's what you said to me three years ago, when
44 Fungoids " was published.' I flushed the more.
I need not have done so at all, for 4 It's the only
important thing I ever heard you say,' he continued.
4 And I've never forgotten it. It's a true thing.
It's a horrible truth. But — d'you remember what
I answered ? I said 44 1 don't care a sou for recogni-
tion." And you believed me. You've gone on
believing I'm above that sort of thing. You're
shallow. What should you know of the feelings of
a man like me ? You imagine that a great artist's
faith in himself and in the verdict of posterity is
enough to keep him happy. . . You've never
guessed at the bitterness and loneliness, the ' — his
voice broke ; but presently he resumed, speaking
with a force that I had never known in him. ' Pos-
terity ! What use is it to me ? A dead man doesn't
know that people are visiting his grave — visiting his
birthplace — putting up tablets to him — unveiling
statues of him. A dead man can't read the books
that are written about him. A hundred years
hence ! Think of it ! If I could come back to life
then — just for a few hours — and go to the reading-
room, and read ! Or better still : if I could be
projected, now, at this moment, into that future,
into that reading-room, just for this one afternoon !
I'd sell myself body and soul to the devil, for that !
Think of the pages and pages in the catalogue :
" So ames, Enoch " endlessly — endless editions,
commentaries, prolegomena, biographies ' — but here
he was interrupted by a sudden loud creak of the
chair at the next table. Our neighbour had half
risen from his place. He was leaning towards us,
4 Excuse — permit me,' he said softly. ' I have
been unable not to hear. Might I take a liberty ?
In this little restaurant-sans-facon ' — he spread wide
his hands — * might I, as the phrase is, " cut in " ? '
I could but signify our acquiescence. Berthe had
appeared at the kitchen door, thinking the stranger
wanted his bill. He waved her away with his
cigar, and in another moment had seated himself
beside me, commanding a full view of Soames.
4 Though not an Englishman,' he explained, ' I
know my London well, Mr. Soames. Your name
and fame — Mr. Beerbohm's too — very known to me.
Your point is : who am I ? ' He glanced quickly
over his shoulder, and in a lowered voice said ' I am
I couldn't help it : I laughed. I tried not to, I
knew there was nothing to laugh at, my rudeness
shamed me, but — I laughed with increasing volume.
The Devil's quiet dignity, the surprise and disgust
of his raised eyebrows, did but the more dissolve
me. I rocked to and fro, I lay back aching. I
4 1 am a gentleman, and,' he said with intense
emphasis, ' I thought I was in the company of
4 Don't ! ' I gasped faintly. 4 Oh, don't ! '
4 Curious, nicht wahr ? ' I heard him say to Soames.
4 There is a type of person to whom the very mention
of my name is — oh-so-awfully-funny ! In your
theatres the dullest comedien needs only to say
44 The Devil ! " and right away they give him 44 the
loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind." Is it
not so ? '
I had now j ust breath enough to offer my apologies.
He accepted them, but coldly, and re-addressed
himself to Soames.
4 1 am a man of business,' he said, 4 and always I
would put things through " right now," as they say
in the States. You are a poet. Les affaires — you
detest them. So be it. But with me you will deal,
eh ? What you have said just now gives me
furiously to hope.'
Soames had not moved, except to light a fresh
cigarette. He sat crouched forward, with his elbows
squared on the table, and his head just above the
level of his hands, staring up at the Devil. 4 Go on,'
he nodded. I had no remnant of laughter in me
4 It will be the more pleasant, our little deal,' the
Devil went on, 4 because you are — I mistake not ? —
4 A Catholic Diabolist,' said Soames.
The Devil accepted the reservation genially.
4 You wish,' he resumed, 4 to visit now — this after-
noon as-ever-is — the reading-room of the British
Museum, yes ? but of a hundred years hence, yes ?
Parfaitement. Time — an illusion. Past and future
— they are as ever-present as the present, or at any
rate only what you call 44 just-round-the-corner."
I switch you on to any date. I project you — pouf !
You wish to be in the reading-room just as it will
be on the afternoon of June 3, 1997 ? You wish to
find yourself standing in that room, just past the
swing-doors, this very minute, yes ? and to stay
there till closing time ? Am I right ? '
The Devil looked at his watch. ' Ten past two,
he said. ' Closing time in summer same then as
now : seven o'clock. That will give you almost five
hours. At seven o'clock — pouf ! — you find yourself
again here, sitting at this table. I am dining to-
night dans le monde — dans le higlif. That concludes
my present visit to your great city. I come and
fetch you here, Mr. Soames, on my way home.'
* Home ? ' I echoed.
4 Be it never so humble ! ' said the Devil lightly.
1 All right,' said Soames.
1 Soames ! ' I entreated. But my friend moved
not a muscle.
The Devil had made as though to stretch forth
his hand across the table and touch Soames' fore-
arm ; but he paused in his gesture.
4 A hundred years hence, as now,' he smiled, ' no
smoking allowed in the reading-room. You would
better therefore '
Soames removed the cigarette from his mouth
and dropped it into his glass of Sauterne.
1 Soames ! ' again I cried. ' Can't you ' — but the
Devil had now stretched forth his hand across the
table. He brought it slowly down on — the table-
cloth. Soames' chair was empty. His cigarette
floated sodden in 'his wine-glass. There was no
other trace of him.
For a few moments the Devil let his hand rest
where it lay, gazing at me out of the corners of his
eyes, vulgarly triumphant.
A shudder shook me. With an effort I controlled
myself and rose from my chair. ' Very clever,' I
said condescendingly. ' But — " The Time Machine "
is a delightful book, don't you think ? So entirely
original ! '
4 You are pleased to sneer,' said the Devil, who
had also risen, i but it is one thing to write about
an impossible machine ; it is a quite other thing to be
a Supernatural Power.' All the same, I had scored.
Berthe had come forth at the sound of our rising.
I explained to her that Mr. Soames had been called
away, and that both he and I would be dining here.
It was not until I was out in the open air that I
began to feel giddy. I have but the haziest recollec-
tion of what I did, where I wandered, in the glaring
sunshine of that endless afternoon. I remember the
sound of carpenters' hammers all along Piccadilly,
and the bare chaotic look of the half-erected 4 stands.'
Was it in the Green Park, or in Kensington Gardens,
or where was it that I sat on a chair beneath a tree,
trying to read an evening paper ? There was a
phrase in the leading article that went on repeating
itself in my fagged mind — * Little is hidden from
this august Lady full of the garnered wisdom of
sixty years of Sovereignty.' I remember wildly
conceiving a letter (to reach Windsor by express
messenger told to await answer) :
1 Madam, — Well knowing that your Majesty is
full of the garnered wisdom of sixty years of
Sovereignty, I venture to ask your advice in the
following delicate matter. Mr. Enoch Soames,
whose poems you may or may not know,' . . .
Was there no way of helping him — saving him ? A
bargain was a bargain, and I was the last man to
aid or abet any one in wriggling out of a reasonable
obligation. I wouldn't have lifted a little finger to
save Faust. But poor Soames ! — doomed to pay
without respite an eternal price for nothing but a
fruitless search and a bitter disillusioning. . .
Odd and uncanny it seemed to me that he, Soames,
in the flesh, in the waterproof cape, was at this
moment living in the last decade of the next century,
poring over books not yet written, and seeing and
seen by men not yet born. Uncannier and odder
still, that to-night and evermore he would be in
Hell. Assuredly, truth was stranger than fiction.
Endless that afternoon was. Almost I wished I
had gone with Soames — not indeed to stay in the
reading-room, but to sally forth for a brisk sight-
seeing walk around a new London. I wandered
restlessly out of the Park I had sat in. Vainly I
tried to imagine myself an ardent tourist from the
eighteenth century. Intolerable was the strain of
the slow-passing and empty minutes. Long before
seven o'clock I was back at the Vingtieme.
I sat there just where I had sat for luncheon. Air
came in listlessly through the open door behind me.
Now and again Rose or Berthe appeared for a
moment. I had told them I would not order any
dinner till Mr. Soames came. A hurdy-gurdy began
to play, abruptly drowning the noise of a quarrel
between some Frenchmen further up the street.
Whenever the tune was changed I heard the quarrel
still raging. I had bought another evening paper
on my way. I unfolded it. My eyes gazed ever
away from it to the clock over the kitchen door. . .
Five minutes, now, to the hour ! I remembered
that clocks in restaurants are kept five minutes fast.
I concentrated my eyes on the paper. I vowed I
would not look away from it again. I held it
upright, at its full width, close to my face, so that
I had no view of anything but it. . . Rather a
tremulous sheet ? Only because of the draught, I
My arms gradually became stiff ; they ached ;
but I could not drop them — now. I had a suspicion,
I had a certainty. Well, what then ? . . . What
else had I come for ? Yet I held tight that barrier
of newspaper. Only the sound of Berthe's brisk
footstep from the kitchen enabled me, forced me, to
drop it, and to utter :
4 What shall we have to eat, Soames ? '
1 // est souffrant, ce pauvre Monsieur Soames ? '
1 He's only — tired.' I asked her to get some
wine — Burgundy — and whatever food might be
ready. Soames sat crouched forward against the
table, exactly as when last I had seen him. It was
as though he had never moved — he who had moved
so unimaginably far. Once or twice in the afternoon
it had for an instant occurred to me that perhaps
his journey was not to be fruitless — that perhaps we
had all been wrong in our estimate of the works of
Enoch Soames. That we had been horribly right
was horribly clear from the look of him. But
4 Don't be discouraged,' I falteringly said. ' Perhaps
it's only that you — didn't leave enough time. Two,
three centuries hence, perhaps '
4 Yes,' his voice came. ' I've thought of that.'
* And now — now for the more immediate future !
Where are you going to hide ? How would it be if
you caught the Paris express from Charing Cross ?
Almost an hour to spare. Don't go on to Paris.
Stop at Calais. Live in Calais. He'd never think
of looking for you in Calais.'
1 It's like my luck,' he said, 4 to spend my last
hours on earth with an ass.' But I was not offended.
4 And a treacherous ass,' he strangely added, tossing
across to me a crumpled bit of paper which he had
been holding in his hand. I glanced at the writing
on it — some sort of gibberish, apparently. I laid it
4 Come, Soames ! pull yourself together ! This
isn't a mere matter of life and death. It's a question
of eternal torment, mind you ! You don't mean to
say you're going to wait limply here till the Devil
comes to fetch you ? '
* I can't do anything else. I've no choice.'
I Come ! This is " trusting and encouraging "
with a vengeance ! This is Diabolism run mad ! ■
I filled his glass with wine. 4 Surely, now that
you've seen the brute '
4 It's no good abusing him.'
' You must admit there's nothing Miltonic about
I I don't say he's not rather different from what
4 He's a vulgarian, he's a swell-mobsman, he's the
sort of man who hangs about the corridors of trains
going to the Riviera and steals ladies' jewel-cases.
Imagine eternal torment presided over by him ! '
4 You don't suppose I look forward to it, do you ? '
4 Then why not slip quietly out of the way ? '
Again and again I filled his glass, and always,
mechanically, he emptied it ; but the wine kindled
no spark of enterprise in him. He did not eat, and
I myself ate hardly at all. I did not in my heart
believe that any dash for freedom could save him.
The chase would be swift, the capture certain. But
better anything than this passive, meek, miserable
waiting. I told Soames that for the honour of the
human race he ought to make some show of
resistance. He asked what the human race had
ever done for him. 4 Besides,' he said, 4 can't you
understand that I'm in his power ? You saw him
touch me, didn't you ? There's an end of it. I've
no will. I'm sealed «'
I made a gesture of despair. He went on repeat-
ing the word ' sealed.' I began to realise that the
wine had clouded his brain. No wonder ! Foodless
he had gone into futurity, foodless he still was. I
urged him to eat at any rate some bread. It was
maddening to think that he, who had so much to
tell, might tell nothing. 4 How was it all,' I asked,
I yonder ? Come ! Tell me your adventures.'
1 They'd make first-rate " copy," wouldn't they ? •
4 I'm awfully sorry for you, Soames, and I make
all possible allowances ; but what earthly right have
you to insinuate that I should make " copy," as
you call it, out of you ? '
The poor fellow pressed his hands to his forehead.
I I don't know,' he said. * I had some reason, I
know. . . I'll try to remember.'
1 That's right. Try to remember everything. Eat
a little more bread. What did the reading-room
look like ? '
1 Much as usual,' he at length muttered.
1 Many people there ? '
4 Usual sort of number.'
4 What did they look like ? '
Soames tried to visualise them. ' They all,' he
presently remembered, 4 looked very like one
My mind took a fearsome leap. ' All dressed in
Jaeger ? '
4 Yes. I think so. Greyish-yellowish stuff.'
4 A sort of uniform ? ' He nodded. 4 With a
number on it, perhaps ? — a number on a large disc
of metal sewn on to the left sleeve ? DKF
78,910 — that sort of thing ? ' It was even so.
4 And all of them — men and women alike — looking
very well-cared-for ? very Utopian ? and smelling
rather strongly of carbolic ? and all of them quite
hairless ? ■ I was right every time. Soames was
only not sure whether the men and women were
hairless or shorn. 4 I hadn't time to look at them
very closely,' he explained.
4 No, of course not. But '
4 They stared at me, I can tell you. I attracted a
great deal of attention.' At last he had done that !
4 1 think I rather scared them. They moved away
whenever I came near. They followed me about
at a distance, wherever I went. The men at the
round desk in the middle seemed to have a sort of
panic whenever I went to make inquiries.'
4 What did you do when you arrived ? '
Well, he had gone straight to the catalogue, of
;jurse — to the S volumes, and had stood long
before SN-SOF, unable to take this volume out of
the shelf, because his heart was beating so. . . At
first, he said, he wasn't disappointed — he only
thought there was some new arrangement. He
went to the middle desk and asked where the
catalogue of twentieth-centwcy books was kept. He
gathered that there was still only one catalogue.
Again he looked up his name, stared at the three
little pasted slips he had known so well. Then he
went and sat down for a long time. . .
• And then,' he droned, ' I looked up the " Dic-
tionary of National Biography " and some encyclo-
paedias. . . I went back to the middle desk and
asked what was the best modern book on late
nineteenth-century literature. They told me Mr.
T. K. Nupton's book was considered the best. I
looked it up in the catalogue and filled in a form
for it. It was brought to me. My name wasn't in
the index, but — Yes ! ' he said with a sudden
change of tone. * That's what I'd forgotten.
Where's that bit of paper ? Give it me back.'
I, too, had forgotten that cryptic screed. I found
it fallen on the floor, and handed it to him.
He smoothed it out, nodding and smiling at me
disagreeably. ' I found myself glancing through
Nupton's book,' he resumed. 4 Not very easy
reading. Some sort of phonetic spelling. . . All
the modern books I saw were phonetic'
4 Then I don't want to hear any more, Soames,
' The proper names seemed all to be spelt in the
old way. But for that, I mightn't have noticed
my own name.'
1 Your own name ? Really ? Soames, I'm very
' And yours.'
' I thought I should find you waiting here to-
night. So I took the trouble to copy out the
passage. Read it.'
I snatched the paper. Soames' handwriting was
characteristically dim. It, and the noisome spelling,
and my excitement, made me all the slower to grasp
what T. K. Nupton was driving at.
The document lies before me at this moment.
Strange that the words I here copy out for you were
copied out for me by poor Soames just seventy-eight
years hence. . .
From p. 234 of 4 Inglish Littracher 1890-1900 ' bi
T. K. Nupton, publishd bi th Stait, 1992 :
4 Fr egzarmpl, a riter ov th time, naimd Max
Beerbohm, hoo woz stil alive in th twentieth senchri,
rote a stauri in wich e pautraid an immajnari
karrakter kauld " Enoch Soames " — a thurd-rait
poit hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus an maix a
bargin with th Dewl in auder ter no wot posterriti
thinx ov im ! It iz a sumwot labud sattire but not
without vallu az showing hou seriusli the yung men
ov th aiteen-ninetiz took themselvz. Nou that the
littreri profeshn haz bin auganized az a departmnt
of publik servis, our riters hav found their levvl an
bav lernt ter doo their duti without thort ov th
morro. " Th laibrer iz werthi ov hiz hire," an that
iz aul. Thank hewn we hav no Enoch Soameses
amung us to-dai ! '
I found that by murmuring the words aloud (a
device which I commend to my reader) I was able
to master them, little by little. The clearer they
became, the greater was my bewilderment, my
distress and horror. The whole thing was a night-
mare. Afar, the great grisly background of what
was in store for the poor dear art of letters ; here, at
the table, fixing on me a gaze that made me hot all
over, the poor fellow whom — whom evidently . . .
but no : whatever down-grade my character might
take in coming years, I should never be such a
brute as to
Again I examined the screed. • Immajnari ' — but
here Soames was, no more imaginary, alas ! than I.
And * labud ' — what on earth was that ? (To this
day, I have never made out that word.) 4 It's all
very — baffling,' I at length stammered.
Soames said nothing, but cruelly did not cease to
look at me.
4 Are you sure,' I temporised, ' quite sure you
copied the thing out correctly ? '
4 Well, then it's this wretched Nupton who must
have made — must be going to make — some idiotic
mistake. . . Look here, Soames ! you know me
better than to suppose that I . . . After all, the
name " Max Beerbohm " is not at all an uncommon
one, and there must be several Enoch Soameses
running around — or rather, " Enoch Soames " is a
name that might occur to any one writing a story.
And I don't write stories : I'm an essayist, an
observer, a recorder. . . I admit that it's an extra-
ordinary coincidence. But you must see '
* I see the whole thing,' said Soames quietly. And
he added, with a touch of his old manner, but with
more dignity than I had ever known in him,
4 Parlons 6? autre chose.''
I accepted that suggestion very promptly. I
returned straight to the more immediate future. I
spent most of the long evening in renewed appeals
to Soames to slip away and seek refuge somewhere.
I remember saying at last that if indeed I was
destined to write about him, the supposed ' stauri '
had better have at least a happy ending. Soames
repeated those last three words in a tone of intense
scorn. c In Life and in Art,' he said, ' all that
matters is an inevitable ending.'
1 But,' I urged, more hopefully than I felt, * an
ending that can be avoided isn't inevitable.'
4 You aren't an artist,' he rasped. ' And you're
so hopelessly not an artist that, so far from being
able to imagine a thing and make it seem true,
you're going to make even a true thing seem as if
you'd made it up. You're a miserable bungler.
And it's like my luck.'
I protested that the miserable bungler was not I
— was not going to be I — but T. K. Nupton ; and
we had a rather heated argument, in the thick of
which it suddenly seemed to me that Soames saw he
was in the wrong : he had quite physically cowered.
But I wondered why — and now I guessed with a cold
throb just why — he stared so, past me. The bringer
of that ' inevitable ending ' filled the doorway.
I managed to turn in my chair and to say, not
without a semblance of lightness, ' Aha, come in ! '
Dread was indeed rather blunted in me by his
looking so absurdly like a villain in a melodrama.
The sheen of his tilted hat and of his shirt-front, the
repeated twists he was giving to his moustache, and
most of all the magnificence of his sneer, gave token
that he was there only to be foiled.
He was at our table in a stride. * I am sorry,' he
sneered witheringly, 4 to break up your pleasant
party, but — '
4 You don't : you complete it,' I assured him. ' Mr.
Soames and I want to have a little talk with you.
Won't you sit ? Mr. Soames got nothing — frankly
nothing — by his journey this afternoon. We don't wish
to say that the whole thing was a swindle — a common
swindle. On the contrary, we believe you meant well.
But of course the bargain, such as it was, is off.'
The Devil gave no verbal answer. He merely
looked at Soames and pointed with rigid forefinger
to the door. Soames was wretchedly rising from his
chair when, with a desperate quick gesture, I swept
together two dinner-knives that were on the table,
and laid their blades across each other. The Devil
stepped sharp back against the table behind him,
averting his face and shuddering.
4 You are not superstitious ! ' he hissed.
4 Not at all,' I smiled.
4 Soames ! ' he said as to an underling, but without
turning his face, 4 put those knives straight ! '
With an inhibitive gesture to my friend, 4 Mr.
Soames,' I said emphatically to the Devil, ' is a
Catholic Diabolist ' ; but my poor friend did the
Devil's bidding, not mine ; and now, with his
master's eyes again fixed on him, he arose, he
shuffled past me. I tried to speak. It was he
that spoke. ' Try,' was the prayer he threw
back at me as the Devil pushed him roughly out
through the door, ' try to make them know that
I did exist ! '
In another instant I too was through that door.
I stood staring all ways — up the street, across it,
down it. There was moonlight and lamplight, but
there was not Soames nor that other.
Dazed, I stood there. Dazed, I turned back, at
length, into the little room ; and I suppose I paid
Berthe or Rose for my dinner and luncheon, and for
Soames' : I hope so, for I never went to the
Vingtieme again. Ever since that night I have
avoided Greek Street altogether. And for years I
did not set foot even in Soho Square, because on
that same night it was there that I paced and
loitered, long and long, with some such dull sense of
hope as a man has in not straying far from the place
where he has lost something. . . i Round and round
the shutter'd Square ' — that line came back to me
on my lonely beat, and with it the whole stanza,
ringing in my brain and bearing in on me how
tragically different from the happy scene imagined
by him was the poet's actual experience of that
prince in whom of all princes we should put not
But — strange how the mind of an essayist, be it
never so stricken, roves and ranges ! — I remember
pausing before a wide doorstep and wondering if
perchance it was on this very one that the young
De Quincey lay ill and faint while poor Ann flew as
fast as her feet would carry her to Oxford Street,
the ' stony-hearted stepmother ■ of them both, and
came back bearing that ' glass of port wine and
spices ' but for which he might, so he thought,
actually have died. Was this the very doorstep
that the old De Quincey used to revisit in homage ?
I pondered Ann's fate, the cause of her sudden
vanishing from the ken of her boy-friend ; and
presently I blamed myself for letting the past
over-ride the present. Poor vanished Soames !
And for myself, too, I began to be troubled.
What had I better do ? Would there be a hue and
cry — Mysterious Disappearance of an Author, and
all that ? He had last been seen lunching and
dining in my company. Hadn't I better get a
hansom and drive straight to Scotland Yard ? . . .
They would think I was a lunatic. After all, I
reassured myself, London was a very large place,
and one very dim figure might easily drop out of it
unobserved — now especially, in the blinding glare
of the near Jubilee. Better say nothing at all, I
And I was right. Soames' disappearance made
no stir at all. He was utterly forgotten before any-
one, so far as I am aware, noticed that he was no
longer hanging around. Now and again some poet
or prosaist may have said to another, 4 What has
become of that man Soames ? ' but I never heard
any such question asked. The solicitor through
whom he was paid his annuity may be presumed to
have made inquiries, but no echo of these resounded.
There was something rather ghastly to me in the
general unconsciousness that Soames had existed,
and more than once I caught myself wondering
whether Nupton, that babe unborn, were going to
be right in thinking him a figment of my brain.
In that extract from Nupton's repulsive book
there is one point which perhaps puzzles you. How
is it that the author, though I have here mentioned
him by name and have quoted the exact words he
is going to write, is not going to grasp the obvious
corollary that I have invented nothing ? The
answer can be only this : Nupton will not have
read the later passages of this memoir. Such lack
of thoroughness is a serious fault in any one who
undertakes to do scholar's work. And I hope these
words will meet the eye of some contemporary rival
to Nupton and be the undoing of Nupton.
I like to think that some time between 1992 and
1997 somebody will have looked up this memoir,
and will have forced on the world his inevitable and
startling conclusions. And I have reasons for
believing that this will be so. You realise that the
reading-room into which Soames was projected by
the Devil was in all respects precisely as it will be
on the afternoon of June 3, 1997. You realise,
therefore, that on that afternoon, when it comes
round, there the self-same crowd will be, and there
Soames too will be, punctually, he and they doing
precisely what they did before. Recall now Soames'
account of the sensation he made. You may say
that the mere difference of his costume was enough
to make him sensational in that uniformed crowd.
You wouldn't say so if you had ever seen him. I
assure you that in no period could Soames be
anything but dim. The fact that people are going
to stare at him, and follow him around, and seem
afraid of him, can be explained only on the hypo-
thesis that they will somehow have been prepared
for his ghostly visitation. They will have been
awfully waiting to see whether he really would
come. And when he does come the effect will of
course be — awful.
An authentic, guaranteed, proven ghost, but —
only a ghost, alas ! Only that. In his first visit,
Soames was a creature of flesh and blood, whereas
the creatures into whose midst he was projected
were but ghosts, I take it — solid, palpable, vocal,
but unconscious and automatic ghosts, in a building
that was itself an illusion. Next time, that building
and those creatures will be real. It is of Soames
that there will be but the semblance. I wish I
could think him destined to revisit the world
actually, physically, consciously. I wish he had
this one brief escape, this one small treat, to look
forward to. I never forget him for long. He is
where he is, and forever. The more rigid moralists
among you may say he has only himself to blame.
For my part, I think he has been very hardly used.
It is well that vanity should be chastened ; and
Enoch Soames' vanity was, I admit, above the
average, and called for special treatment. But
there was no need for vindictiveness. You say he
contracted to pay the price he is paying ; yes ; but
I maintain that he was induced to do so by fraud.
Well-informed in all things, the Devil must have
known that my friend would gain nothing by his
visit to futurity. The whole thing was a very
shabby trick. The more I think of it, the more
detestable the Devil seems to me.
Of him I have caught sight several times, here
and there, since that day at the Vingtieme. Only
once, however, have I seen him at close quarters.
This was in Paris. I was walking, one afternoon,
along the Rue d' An tin, when I saw him advancing
from the opposite direction — over-dressed as ever,
and swinging an ebony cane, and altogether behaving
as though the whole pavement belonged to him.
At thought of Enoch Soames and the myriads of
other sufferers eternally in this brute's dominion, a
great cold wrath filled me, and I drew myself up to
my full height. But — well, one is so used to
nodding and smiling in the street to anybody
whom one knows that the action becomes almost
independent of oneself : to prevent it requires a
very sharp effort and great presence of mind. I
was miserably aware, as I passed the Devil, that I
nodded and smiled to him. And my shame was the
deeper and hotter because he, if you please, stared
straight at me with the utmost haughtiness.
To be cut — deliberately cut — by him ! I was, I
still am, furious at having had that happen to me.
HILARY MALTBY AND
HILARY MALTBY AND
PEOPLE still go on comparing Thackeray and
Dickens, quite cheerfully. But the fashion
of comparing Maltby and Braxton went
out so long ago as 1795. No, I am wrong. But
anything that happened in the bland old days
before the war does seem to be a hundred more
years ago than actually it is. The year I mean
is the one in whose spring-time we all went bicy-
cling (O thrill !) in Battersea Park, and ladies
wore sleeves that billowed enormously out from
their shoulders, and Lord Rosebery was Prime
In that Park, in that spring-time, in that sea of
sleeves, there was almost as much talk about the
respective merits of Braxton and Maltby as there
was about those of Rudge and Humber. For the
benefit of my younger readers, and perhaps, so
feeble is human memory, for the benefit of their
elders too, let me state that Rudge and Humber
were rival makers of bicycles, that Hilary Maltby
was the author of ' Ariel in Mayfair,' and Stephen
Braxton of ' A Faun on the Cotswolds/
1 Which do you think is really the best — " Ariel "
or " A Faun " ? ' Ladies were always asking one
that question. ' Ob, well, you know, the two are
so different. It's really very hard to compare
them.' One was always giving that answer. One
was not very brilliant perhaps.
The vogue of the two novels lasted throughout
the summer. As both were " firstlings,' and Great
Britain had therefore nothing else of Braxton's or
Maltby's to fall back on, the horizon was much
scanned for what Maltby, and what Braxton,
would give us next. In the autumn Braxton gave
us his secondling. It was an instantaneous failure.
No more was he compared with Maltby. In the
spring of '96 came Maltby's secondling. Its failure
was instantaneous. Maltby might once more have
been compared with Braxton. But Braxton was
now forgotten. So was Maltby.
This was not kind. This was not just. Maltby's
first novel, and Braxton's, had brought delight into
many thousands of homes. People should have
paused to say of Braxton " Perhaps his third novel
will be better than his second," and to say as much
for Maltby. I blame people for having given no
sign of wanting a third from either ; and I blame
them with the more zest because neither * A Faun
on the Cotswolds ' nor t Ariel in Mayfair ' was a
merely popular book : each, I maintain, was a good
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
book. I don't go so far as to say that the one had
4 more of natural magic, more of British woodland
glamour, more of the sheer joy of life in it than
anything since " As You Like It," ' though Higsby
went so far as this in the Daily Chronicle ; nor can
I allow the claim made for the other by Grigsby in
the Globe that ' for pungency of satire there has
been nothing like it since Swift laid down his pen,
and for sheer sweetness and tenderness of feeling —
ex forti dulcedo — nothing to be mentioned in the
same breath with it since the lute fell from the tired
hand of Theocritus.' These were foolish exaggera-
tions. But one must not condemn a thing because
it has been over-praised. Maltby's 4 Ariel ' was a
delicate, brilliant work ; and Braxton's ' Faun,'
crude though it was in many ways, had yet a
genuine power and beauty. This is not a mere
impression remembered from early youth. It is the
reasoned and seasoned judgment of middle age.
Both books have been out of print for many years ;
but I secured a second-hand copy of each not long
ago, and found them well worth reading again.
From the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the
outbreak of the war, current literature did not suffer
from any lack of fauns. But when Braxton's first
book appeared fauns had still an air of novelty
about them. We had not yet tired of them and
their hoofs and their slanting eyes and their way of
coming suddenly out of woods to wean quiet English
villages from respectability. We did tire later.
But Braxton's faun, even now, seems to me an
admirable specimen of his class — wild and weird,
earthy, goat-like, almost convincing. And I find
myself convinced altogether by Braxton's rustics.
I admit that I do not know much about rustics,
except from novels. But I plead that the little I do
know about them by personal observation does not
confirm much of what the many novelists have
taught me. I plead also that Braxton may well
have been right about the rustics of Gloucestershire
because he was (as so many interviewers recorded
of him in his brief heyday) the son of a yeoman
farmer at Far Oakridge, and his boyhood had been
divided between that village and the Grammar
School at Stroud. Not long ago I happened to be
staying in the neighbourhood, and came across
several villagers who might, I assure you, have
stepped straight out of Braxton's pages. For that
matter, Braxton himself, whom I met often in the
spring of '95, might have stepped straight out of
his own pages.
I am guilty of having wished he would step
straight back into them. He was a very surly
fellow, very rugged and gruff. He was the anti-
thesis of pleasant little Maltby. I used to think
that perhaps he would have been less unamiable if
success had come to him earlier. He was thirty
years old when his book was published, and had
had a very hard time since coming to London at the
age of sixteen. Little Maltby was a year older, and
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
so had waited a year longer ; but then, he had
waited under a comfortable roof at Twickenham,
emerging into the metropolis for no grimmer purpose
than to sit and watch the fashionable riders and
walkers in Rotten Row, and then going home to
write a little, or to play lawn-tennis with the young
ladies of Twickenham. He had been the only child
of his parents (neither of whom, alas, survived to
take pleasure in their darling's sudden fame). He
had now migrated from Twickenham and taken
rooms in Ryder Street. Had he ever shared with
Braxton the bread of adversity — but no, I think he
would in any case have been pleasant. And con-
versely I cannot imagine that Braxton would in any
case have been so.
No one seeing the two rivals together, no one
meeting them at Mr. Hookworth's famous luncheon
parties in the Authors' Club, or at Mrs. Foster-
Dugdale's not less famous garden parties in Greville
Place, would have supposed off-hand that the pair
had a single point in common. Dapper little
Maltby — blond, bland, diminutive Maltby, with his
monocle and his gardenia ; big black Braxton, with
his lanky hair and his square blue jaw and his
square sallow forehead. Canary and crow. Maltby
had a perpetual chirrup of amusing small-talk.
Braxton was usually silent, but very well worth
listening to whenever he did croak. He had dis-
tinction, I admit it ; the distinction of one who
steadfastly refuses to adapt himself to surroundings.
He stood out. He awed Mr. Hookworth. Ladies
were always asking one another, rather intently,
what they thought of him. One could imagine that
Mr. Foster-Dugdale, had he come home from the
City to attend the garden parties, might have
regarded him as one from whom Mrs. Foster-Dugdale
should be shielded. But the casual observer of
Braxton and Maltby at Mrs. Foster-Dugdale' s or
elsewhere was wrong in supposing that the two were
totally unlike. He overlooked one simple and
obvious point. This was that he had met them
both at Mrs. Foster-Dugdale's or elsewhere. Wher-
ever they were invited, there certainly, there punc-
tually, they would be. They were both of them
gluttons for the fruits and signs of their success.
Interviewers and photographers had as little
reason as had hostesses to complain of two men so
earnestly and assiduously 4 on the make ' as Maltby
and Braxton. Maltby, for all his sparkle, was
earnest ; Braxton, for all his arrogance, assiduous.
4 A Faun on the Cotswolds ' had no more eager
eulogist than the author of * Ariel in Mayfair.'
When any one praised his work, Maltby would
lightly disparage it in comparison with Braxton's —
4 Ah, if I could write like tliat ! ' Maltby won
golden opinions in this way. Braxton, on the
other hand, would let slip no opportunity for
sneering at Maltby 's work — * gimcrack,' as he called
it. This was not good for Maltby. Different men,
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
1 The Rape of the Lock ' was ' gimcrack,' if you
care to call it so ; but it was a delicate, brilliant
work ; and so, I repeat, was Maltby's J Ariel.'
Absurd to compare Maltby with Pope ? I am not
so sure. I have read 4 Ariel,' but have never read
4 The Rape of the Lock.' Braxton's opprobrious
term for 4 Ariel ' may not, however, have been due
to jealousy alone. Braxton had imagination, and
his rival did not soar above fancy. But the point
is that Maltby's fancifulness went far and well. In
telling how Ariel re-embodied himself from thin air,
leased a small house in Chesterfield Street, was
presented at a Levee, played the part of good fairy
in a matter of true love not running smooth, and
worked meanwhile all manner of amusing changes
among the aristocracy before be vanished again,
Maltby showed a very pretty range of ingenuity.
In one respect, his work was a more surprising
achievement than Braxton's. For whereas Braxton
had been born and bred among his rustics, Maltby
knew his aristocrats only through Thackeray,
through the photographs and paragraphs in the
newspapers, and through those passionate excursions
of his to Rotten Row. Yet I found his aristocrats
as convincing as Braxton's rustics. It is true that
I may have been convinced wrongly. That is a
point which I could settle only by experience. I
shift my ground, claiming for Maltby's aristocrats
just this : that they pleased me very much.
Aristocrats, when they are presented solely
through a novelist's sense of beauty, do not satisfy
us. They may be as beautiful as all that, but, for
fear of thinking ourselves snobbish, we won't believe
it. We do believe it, however, and revel in it, when
the novelist saves his face and ours by a pervading
irony in the treatment of what he loves. The
irony must, mark you, be pervading and obvious.
Disraeli's great ladies and lords won't do, for his
irony was but latent in his homage, and thus the
reader feels himself called on to worship and in duty
bound to scoff. All's well, though, when the homage
is latent in the irony. Thackeray, inviting us to
laugh and frown over the follies of Mayfair, enables
us to reel with him in a secret orgy of veneration
for those fools.
Maltby, too, in his measure, enabled us to reel
thus. That is mainly why, before the end of April,
his publisher was in a position to state that 4 the
Seventh Large Impression of " Ariel in Mayfair " is
almost exhausted.' Let it be put to our credit,
however, that at the same moment Braxton's
publisher had 4 the honour to inform the public that
an Eighth Large Impression of " A Faun on the
Cotswolds " is in instant preparation.'
Indeed, it seemed impossible for either author to
outvie the other in success and glory. Week in,
week out, you saw cancelled either's every momen-
tary advantage. A neck-and-neck race. As thus :
— Maltby appears as a Celebrity At Home in the
World (Tuesday). Ha ! No, Vanity Fair (Wednes-
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
day) has a perfect presentment of Braxton by
4 Spy.' Neck-and-neck ! No, Vanity Fair says ' the
subject of next week's cartoon will be Mr. Hilary
Maltby.' Maltby wins ! No, next week Braxton's
in the World.
Throughout May I kept, as it were, my eyes
glued to my field-glasses. On the first Monday in
June I saw that which drew from me a hoarse
Let me explain that always on Monday mornings
at this time of year, when I opened my daily paper,
I looked with respectful interest to see what bevy
of the great world had been entertained since
Saturday at Keeb Hall. The list was always
august and inspiring. Statecraft and Diplomacy
were well threaded there with mere Lineage and
mere Beauty, with Royalty sometimes, with mere
Wealth never, with privileged Genius now and then.
A noble composition always. It was said that the
Duke of Hertfordshire cared for nothing but his
collection of birds' eggs, and that the collections of
guests at Keeb were formed entirely by his young
Duchess. It was said that he had climbed trees in
every corner of every continent. The Duchess'
hobby was easier. She sat aloft and beckoned
desirable specimens up.
The list published on that first Monday in June
began ordinarily enough, began with the Austro-
Hungarian Ambassador and the Portuguese Minister.
Then came the Duke and Duchess of Mull, followed
by four lesser Peers (two of them Proconsuls,
however) with their Peeresses, three Peers without
their Peeresses, four Peeresses without their Peers,
and a dozen bearers of courtesy-titles with or
without their wives or husbands. The rear was
brought up by ' Mr. A. J. Balfour, Mr. Henry
Chaplin, and Mr. Hilary Maltby.'
Youth tends to look at the darker side of things.
I confess that my first thought was for Braxton.
I forgave and forgot his faults of manner. Youth
is generous. It does not criticise a strong man
And anon, so habituated was I to the parity of
those two strivers, I conceived that there might be
some mistake. Daily newspapers are printed in a
hurry. Might not ' Henry Chaplin ' be a typo-
graphical error for 4 Stephen Braxton ' ? I went
out and bought another newspaper. But Mr.
Chaplin's name was in that too.
4 Patience ! ' I said to myself. ' Braxton crouches
only to spring. He will be at Keeb Hall on Saturday
My mind was free now to dwell with pleasure on
Maltby's great achievement. I thought of writing
to congratulate him, but feared this might be in
bad taste. I did, however, write asking him to
lunch with me. He did not answer my letter. I
was, therefore, all the more sorry, next Monday, at
not finding ! and Mr. Stephen Braxton ' in Keeb's
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
A few days later I met Mr. Hookworth. He
mentioned that Stephen Braxton had left town.
4 He has taken,' said Hookworth, ' a delightful
bungalow on the east coast. He has gone there to
work? He added that he had a great liking for
Braxton — ' a man utterly unspoilt? I inferred that
he, too, had written to Maltby and received no
That butterfly did not, however, appear to be
hovering from flower to flower in the parterres of
rank and fashion. In the daily lists of guests at
dinners, receptions, dances, balls, the name of
Maltby figured never. Maltby Tiad not caught on.
Presently I heard that he, too, had left town. I
gathered that he had gone quite early in June —
quite soon after Keeb. Nobody seemed to know
where he was. My own theoiy was that he had
taken a delightful bungalow on the west coast, to
balance Braxton. Anyhow, the parity of the two
strivers was now somewhat re-established.
In point of fact, the disparity had been less than
I supposed. While Maltby was at Keeb, there
Braxton was also — in a sense. . . It was a strange
story. I did not hear it at the time. Nobody did.
I heard it seventeen years later. I heard it in
Little Lucca I found so enchanting that, though
I had only a day or two to spare, I stayed there a
whole month. I formed the habit of walking, every
morning, round that high-pitched path which
girdles Lucca, that wide and tree-shaded path from
which one looks down over the city wall at the
fertile plains beneath Lucca. There were never
many people there ; but the few who did come
came daily, so that I grew to like seeing them and
took a mild personal interest in them.
One of them was an old lady in a wheeled chair.
She was not less than seventy years old, and might
or might not have once been beautiful. Her chair
was slowly propelled by an Italian woman. She
herself was obviously Italian. Not so, however, the
little gentleman who walked assiduously beside
her. Him I guessed to be English. He was a very
stout little gentleman, with gleaming spectacles and
a full blond beard, and he seemed to radiate cheer-
fulness. I thought at first that he might be the
old lady's resident physician ; but no, there was
something subtly un-professional about him : I
became sure that his constancy was gratuitous, and
his radiance real. And one day, I know not how,
there dawned on me a suspicion that he was —
who ? — some one I had known — some writer —
what's-his-name — something with an M — Maltby —
Hilary Maltby of the long-ago !
At sight of him on the morrow this suspicion
hardened almost to certainty. I wished I could
meet him alone and ask him if I were not right, and
what he had been doing all these years, and why
he had left England. He was always with the old
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
lady. It was only on my last day in Lucca that
my chance came.
I had just lunched, and was seated on a com-
fortable bench outside my hotel, with a cup of
coffee on the table before me, gazing across the
faded old sunny piazza and wondering what to do
with my last afternoon. It was then that I espied
yonder the back of the putative Maltby. I hastened
forth to him. He was buying some pink roses, a
great bunch of them, from a market-woman under
an umbrella. He looked very blank, he flushed
greatly, when I ventured to accost him. He
admitted that his name was Hilary Maltby. I told
him my own name, and by degrees he remembered
me. He apologised for his confusion. He explained
that he had not talked English, had not talked to
an Englishman, ' for — oh, hundreds of years.' He
said that he had, in the course of his long residence
in Lucca, seen two or three people whom he had
known in England, but that none of them had
recognised him. He accepted (but as though he
were embarking on the oddest adventure in the
world) my invitation that he should come and sit
down and take coffee with me. He laughed with
pleasure and surprise at finding that he could still
speak his native tongue quite fluently and idioma-
tically. * I know absolutely nothing,' he said,
4 about England nowadays — except from stray
references to it in the Corriere della Sera ' ; nor did
he show the faintest desire that I should enlighten
him. 4 England,' he mused, ' — how it all comes
back to me ! '
4 But not you to it ? '
1 Ah, no indeed,' he said gravely, looking at the
roses which he had laid carefully on the marble
table. • I am the happiest of men.'
He sipped his coffee, and stared out across the
piazza, out beyond it into the past.
4 1 am the happiest of men,' he repeated. I plied
him with the spur of silence.
* And I owe it all to having once yielded to a bad
impulse. Absurd, the threads our destinies hang on ! '
Again I plied him with that spur. As it seemed
not to prick him, I repeated the words he had last
spoken. ' For instance ? ' I added.
1 Take,' he said, * a certain evening in the spring
of '95. If, on that evening, the Duchess of Hert-
fordshire had had a bad cold ; or if she had decided
that it wouldn't be rather interesting to go on to
that party — that Annual Soiree, I think it was — of
the Inkwomen's Club ; or again — to go a step
further back — if she hadn't ever written that one
little poem, and if it hadn't been printed in " The
Gentlewoman," and if the Inkwomen's committee
hadn't instantly and unanimously elected ber an
Honorary Vice-President because of that one little
poem ; or if — well, if a million-and-one utterly
irrelevant things hadn't happened, don't-you-know,
I shouldn't be here ... I might be there, 9 he
smiled, with a vague gesture indicating England.
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
4 Suppose,' he went on, ' I hadn't been invited
to that Annual Soiree ; or suppose that other
4 Braxton ? ' I suggested. I had remembered
Braxton at the moment of recognising Maltby.
4 Suppose lie hadn't been asked. . . But of course
we both were. It happened that I was the first to
be presented to the Duchess. . . It was a great
moment. I hoped I should keep my head. She
wore a tiara. I had often seen women in tiaras,
at the Opera. But I had never talked to a woman
in a tiara. Tiaras were symbols to me. Eyes are
just a human feature. I fixed mine on the Duchess's.
I kept my head by not looking at hers. I behaved
as one human being to another. She seemed very
intelligent. We got on very well. Presently she
asked whether I should think her very bold if she
said how perfectly divine she thought my book. I
said something about doing my best, and asked
with animation whether she had read " A Faun on
the Cotswolds." She had. She said it was too
wonderful, she said it was too great. If she hadn't
been a Duchess, I might have thought her slightly
hysterical. Her innate good-sense quickly reasserted
itself. She used her great power. With a wave of
her magic wand she turned into a fact the glittering
possibility that had haunted me. She asked me
down to Keeb.
4 She seemed very pleased that I would come.
Was I, by any chance, free on Saturday week ? She
hoped there would be some amusing people to meet
me. Could I come by the 3.30 ? It was only an
hour-and-a-quarter from Victoria. On Saturday
there were always compartments reserved for people
coming to Keeb by the 3.30. She hoped I would
bring my bicycle with me. She hoped I wouldn't
find it very dull. She hoped I wouldn't forget to
come. She said how lovely it must be to spend
one's life among clever people. She supposed I
knew everybody here to-night. She asked me to
tell her who everybody was. She asked who was
the tall, dark man, over there. I told her it was
Stephen Braxton. She said they had promised to
introduce her to him. She added that he looked
rather wonderful. " Oh, he is, very," I assured
her. She turned to me with a sudden appeal :
" Do you think, if I took my courage in both hands
and asked him, he'd care to come to Keeb ? "
1 1 hesitated. It would be easy to say that Satan
answered for me ; easy but untrue ; it was I that
babbled : " Well — as a matter of fact — since you
ask me — if I were you — really I think you'd better
not. He's very odd in some ways. He has an
extraordinary hatred of sleeping out of London.
He has the real Gloucestershire love of London. At
the same time, he's very shy ; and if you asked him
he wouldn't very well know how to refuse. I think
it would be kinder not to ask him."
* At that moment, Mrs. Wilpham — the President
— loomed up to us, bringing Braxton. He bore
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
himself well. Rough dignity with a touch of
mellowness. I daresay you never saw him smile.
He smiled gravely down at the Duchess, while she
talked in her pretty little quick humble way. He
made a great impression.
4 What I had done was not merely base : it was
very dangerous. I was in terror that she might
rally him on his devotion to London. I didn't dare
to move away. I was immensely relieved when at
length she said she must be going.
4 Braxton seemed loth to relax his grip on her
hand at parting. I feared she wouldn't escape
without uttering that invitation. But all was
well. . . In saying good night to me, she added in
a murmur, " Don't forget Keeb — Saturday week —
the 3.30." Merely an exquisite murmur. But
Braxton heard it. I knew, by the diabolical look
he gave me, that Braxton had heard it. . . If he
hadn't, I shouldn't be here.
4 Was I a prey to remorse ? Well, in the days
between that Soiree and that Saturday, remorse
often claimed me, but rapture wouldn't give me
up. Arcady, Olympus, the right people, at last ! I
hadn't realised how good my book was — not till it
got me this guerdon ; not till I got it this huge
advertisement. I foresaw how pleased my publisher
would be. In some great houses, I knew, it was
possible to stay without any one knowing you had
been there. But the Duchess of Hertfordshire hid
her light under no bushel. Exclusive she was, but
not of publicity. Next to Windsor Castle, Keeb
Hall was the most advertised house in all England.
4 Meanwhile, I had plenty to do. I rather thought
of engaging a valet, but decided that this wasn't
necessary. On the other hand, I felt a need for
three new summer suits, and a new evening suit,
and some new white waistcoats. Also a smoking
suit. And had any man ever stayed at Keeb
without a dressing-case ? Hitherto I had been
content with a pair of wooden brushes, and so forth.
I was afraid these would appal the footman who
unpacked my things. I ordered, for his sake, a
large dressing-case, with my initials engraved
throughout it. It looked compromisingly new when
it came to me from the shop. I had to kick it
industriously, and throw it about and scratch it, so
as to avert possible suspicion. The tailor did not
send my things home till the Friday evening. I
had to sit up late, wearing the new suits in rotation.
' Next day, at Victoria, I saw strolling on the
platform many people, male and female, who
looked as if they were going to Keeb — tall, cool,
ornate people who hadn't packed their own things
and had reached Victoria in broughams. I was
ornate, but not tall nor cool. My porter was rather
off-hand in his manner as he wheeled my things
along to the 3.30. I asked severely if there were
any compartments reserved for people going to , stay
with the Duke of Hertfordshire. This worked an
instant change in him. Having set me in one of
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
those shrines, he seemed almost loth to accept a
tip. A snob, I am afraid.
4 A selection of the tall, the cool, the ornate, the
intimately acquainted with one another, soon filled
the compartment. There I was, and I think they
felt they ought to try to bring me into the conversa-
tion. As they were all talking about a cotillion of
the previous night, I shouldn't have been able to
shine. I gazed out of the window, with middle-
class aloofness. Presently the talk drifted on to
the topic of bicycles. But by this time it was too
late for me to come in.
4 1 gazed at the squalid outskirts of London as
they flew by. I doubted, as I listened to my fellow-
passengers, whether I should be able to shine at
Keeb. I rather wished I were going to spend the
week-end at one of those little houses with back-
gardens beneath the railway-line. I was filled with
4 For shame ! thought I. Was I nobody ? Was
the author of " Ariel in Mayfair " nobody ?
4 1 reminded myself how glad Braxton would be
if he knew of my faint-heartedness. I thought of
Braxton sitting, at this moment, in his room in
Clifford's Inn and glowering with envy of his hated
rival in the 3.30. And after all, how enviable I
was ! My spirits rose. I would acquit myself
well. . .
4 1 much admired the scene at the little railway
station where we alighted. It was like a fite by
Lancret. I knew from the talk of my fellow-
passengers that some people had been going down
by an earlier train, and that others were coming
by a later. But the 3.30 had brought a full
score of us. Us ! That was the final touch of
4 Outside there were two broughams, a landau,
dog-carts, a phaeton, a wagonette, I know not what.
But almost everybody, it seemed, was going to
bicycle. Lady Rodfitten said she was going to
bicycle. Year after year, I had seen that famous
Countess riding or driving in the Park. I had been
told at fourth hand that she had a masculine
intellect and could make and unmake Ministries.
She was nearly sixty now, a trifle dyed and stout
and weather-beaten, but still tremendously hand-
some, and hard as nails. One would not have said
she had grown older, but merely that she belonged
now to a rather later period of the Roman Empire.
I had never dreamed of a time when one roof would
shelter Lady Rodfitten and me. Somehow, she
struck my imagination more than any of these
others — more than Count Deym, more than Mr.
Balfour, more than the lovely Lady Thisbe
1 1 might have had a ducal vehicle all to myself,
and should have liked that ; but it seemed more
correct that I should use my bicycle. On the other
hand, I didn't want to ride with all these people — a
stranger in their midst. I lingered around the
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
luggage till they were off, and then followed at a
4 The sun had gone behind clouds. But I rode
slowly, so as to be sure not to arrive hot. I passed,
not without a thrill, through the massive open
gates into the Duke's park. A massive man with
a cockade saluted me — hearteningly — from the door
of the lodge. The park seemed endless. I came, at
length, to a long straight avenue of elms that were
almost blatantly immemorial. At the end of it was
— well, I felt like a gnat going to stay in a public
4 If there had been turnstiles — in and out — and
a shilling to pay, I should have felt easier as I
passed into that hall — that Palladio-Gargantuan
hall. Some one, some butler or groom-of-the-
chamber, murmured that her Grace was in the
garden. I passed out through the great opposite
doorway on to a wide spectacular terrace with
lawns beyond. Tea was on the nearest of these
lawns. In the central group of people — some
standing, others sitting — I espied the Duchess. She
sat pouring out tea, a deft and animated little
figure. I advanced firmly down the steps from the
terrace, feeling that all would be well so soon as I
had reported myself to the Duchess.
1 But I had a staggering surprise on my way to
her. I espied in one of the smaller groups — whom
d'you think ? Braxton.
4 1 had no time to wonder how he had got there —
time merely to grasp the black fact that he was
4 The Duchess seemed really pleased to see me.
She said it was too splendid of me to come. " You
know Mr. Maltby ? " she asked Lady Rodfitten, who
exclaimed " Not Mr. Hilary Maltby ? " with a
vigorous grace that was overwhelming. Lady Rod-
fitten declared she was the greatest of my admirers ;
and I could well believe that in whatever she did
she excelled all competitors. On the other hand, I
found it hard to believe she was afraid of me. Yet
I had her word for it that she was.
4 Her womanly charm gave place now to her
masculine grip. She eulogised me in the language
of a seasoned reviewer on the staff of a long-
established journal — wordy perhaps, but sound. I
revered and loved her. I wished I could give her
my undivided attention. But, whilst I sat there,
teacup in hand, between her and the Duchess, part
of my brain was fearfully concerned with that
glimpse I had had of Braxton. It didn't so much
matter that he was here to halve my triumph. But
suppose he knew what I had told the Duchess !
And suppose he had — no, surely if he had shown me
up in all my meanness she wouldn't have received
me so very cordially. I wondered where she could
have met him since that evening of the Ink women.
I heard Lady Rodfitten concluding her review of
44 Ariel " with two or three sentences that might
have been framed specially to give the publisher an
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
easy " quote." And then I heard myself asking
mechanically whether she had read " A Faun on
the Cotswolds." The Duchess heard me too. She
turned from talking to other people and said " I
did like Mr. Braxton so very much."
1 " Yes," I threw out with a sickly smile, " I'm
so glad you asked him to come."
4 " But I didn't ask him. I didn't dare"
1 " But — but — surely he wouldn't be — be here
if—" We stared at each other blankly. " Here ? "
she echoed, glancing at the scattered little groups
of people on the lawn. I glanced too. I was much
embarrassed. I explained that I had seen Braxton
" standing just over there " when I arrived, and
had supposed he was one of the people who came
by the earlier train. " Well," she said with a
slightly irritated laugh, " you must have mistaken
some one else for him." She dropped the subject,
talked to other people, and presently moved away.
4 Surely, thought I, she didn't suspect me of
trying to make fun of her ? On the other hand,
surely she hadn't conspired with Braxton to make
a fool of me ? And yet, how could Braxton be here
without an invitation, and without her knowledge ?
My brain whirled. One thing only was clear. I
could not have mistaken anybody for Braxton.
There Braxton had stood — Stephen Braxton, in
that old pepper-and-salt suit of his, with his red tie
all askew, and without a hat — his hair hanging over
his forehead. All this I had seen sharp and clean-
cut. There he had stood, just beside one of the
women who travelled down in the same compart-
ment as I ; a very pretty woman in a pale blue
dress ; a tall woman — but I had noticed how small
she looked beside Braxton. This woman was now
walking to and fro, yonder, with M. de Soveral. I
had seen Braxton beside her as clearly as I now saw
M. de Soveral.
4 Lady Rodfitten was talking about India to a
recent Viceroy. She seemed to have as firm a grip
of India as of " Ariel." I sat forgotten. I wanted
to arise and wander off — in a vague search for
Braxton. But I feared this might look as if I were
angry at being ignored. Presently Lady Rodfitten
herself arose, to have what she called her " annual
look round." She bade me come too, and strode off
between me and the recent Viceroy, noting improve-
ments that had been made in the grounds, suggest-
ing improvements that might be made, indicating
improvements that must be made. She was great
on landscape-gardening. The recent Viceroy was
less great on it, but great enough. I don't say I
walked forgotten : the eminent woman constantly
asked my opinion ; but my opinion, though of
course it always coincided with hers, sounded quite
worthless, somehow. I longed to shine. I could
only bother about Braxton.
' Lady Rodfitten's voice sounded over-strong for
the stillness of evening. The shadows lengthened.
My spirits sank lower and lower, with the sun. I
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
was a naturally cheerful person, but always, towards
sunset, I had a vague sense of melancholy : I
seemed always to have grown weaker ; morbid
misgivings would come to me. On this particular
evening there was one such misgiving that crept in
and out of me again and again ... a very horrible
misgiving as to the nature of what I had seen.
4 Well, dressing for dinner is a great tonic.
Especially if one shaves. My spirits rose as I
lathered my face. I smiled to my reflection in the
mirror. The afterglow of the sun came through the
window behind the dressing-table, but I had switched
on all the lights. My new silver-topped bottles and
things made a fine array. To-night I" was going to
shine, too. I felt I might yet be the life and soul
of the party. Anyway, my new evening suit was
without a fault. And meanwhile this new razor
was perfect. Having shaved " down," I lathered
myself again and proceeded to shave " up." It
was then that I uttered a sharp sound and swung
round on my heel.
4 No one was there. Yet this I knew : Stephen
Braxton had just looked over my shoulder. I had
seen the reflection of his face beside mine — craned
forward to the mirror. I had met his eyes.
4 He had been with me. This I knew.
4 1 turned to look again at that mirror. One of
my cheeks was all covered with blood. I stanched
it with a towel. Three long cuts where the razor
had slipped and skipped. I plunged the towel into
cold water and held it to my cheek. The bleeding
went on — alarmingly. I rang the bell. No one
came. I vowed I wouldn't bleed to death for
Braxton. I rang again. At last a very tall
powdered footman appeared — more reproachful-
looking than sympathetic, as though I hadn't
ordered that dressing-case specially on his behalf.
He said he thought one of the housemaids would
have some sticking-plaster. He was very sorry he
was needed downstairs, but he would tell one of the
housemaids. I continued to dab and to curse.
The blood flowed less. I showed great spirit. I
vowed Braxton should not prevent me from going
down to dinner.
4 But — a pretty sight I was when I did go down.
Pale but determined, with three long strips of black
sticking-plaster forming a sort of Z on my left
cheek. Mr. Hilary Maltby at Keeb. Literature's
4 1 don't know how late I was. Dinner was in
full swing. Some servant piloted me to my place.
I sat down unobserved. The woman on either side
of me was talking to her other neighbour. I was
near the Duchess' end of the table. Soup was
served to me — that dark-red soup that you pour
cream into — Bortsch. I felt it would steady me.
I raised the first spoonful to my lips, and — my
hand gave a sudden jerk.
4 1 was aware of two separate horrors — a horror
that had been, a horror that was. Braxton had
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
vanished. Not for more than an instant had he
stood scowling at me from behind the opposite
diners. Not for more than the fraction of an
instant. But he-had left his mark on me. I gazed
down with a frozen stare at my shirtfront, at my
white waistcoat, both dark with Bortsch. I rubbed
them with a napkin. I made them worse.
' I looked at my glass of champagne. I raised it
carefully and drained it at one draught. It nerved
me. But behind that shirtfront was a broken
1 The woman on my left was Lady Thisbe Crow-
borough. I don't know who was the woman on
my right. She was the first to turn and see me. I
thought it best to say something about my shirt-
front at once. I said it to her sideways, without
showing my left cheek. Her handsome eyes rested
on the splashes. She said, after a moment's
thought, that they looked " rather gay." She said
she thought the eternal black and white of men's
evening clothes was " so very dreary." She did her
best. . . Lady Thisbe Crowborough did her best,
too, I suppose ; but breeding isn't proof against
all possible shocks : she visibly started at sight of
me and my Z. I explained that I had cut myself
shaving. I said, with an attempt at lightness, that
shy men ought always to cut themselves shaving :
it made such a good conversational opening. " But
surely," she said after a pause, " you don't cut
yourself on purpose ? " She was an abysmal fool.
I didn't think so at the time. She was Lady
Thisbe Crowborough. This fact hallowed her. That
we didn't get on at all well was a misfortune for
which I blamed only myself and my repulsive
appearance and — the unforgettable horror that
distracted me. Nor did I blame Lady Thisbe for
turning rather soon to the man on her other side.
' The woman on my right was talking to the man
on her other side ; so that I was left a prey to
secret memory and dread. I wasn't wondering,
wasn't attempting to explain ; I was merely re-
membering — and dreading. And — how odd one is !
— on the top-layer of my consciousness I hated to
be seen talking to no one. Mr. Maltby at Keeb. I
caught the Duchess' eye once or twice, and she
nodded encouragingly, as who should say " You
do look rather awful, and you do seem rather out
of it, but I don't for a moment regret having asked
you to come." Presently I had another chance of
talking. I heard myself talk. My feverish anxiety
to please rather touched me. But I noticed that
the eyes of my listener wandered. And yet I was
sorry when the ladies went away. I had a sense of
greater exposure. Men who hadn't seen me saw me
now. The Duke, as he came round to the Duchess'
end of the table, must have wondered who I was.
But he shyly offered me his hand as he passed, and
said it was so good of me to come. I had thought
of slipping away to put on another shirt and waist-
coat, but had decided that this would make me the
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
more ridiculous. I sat drinking port — poison to me
after champagne, but a lulling poison — and listened
to noblemen with unstained shirtfronts talking
about the Australian cricket match. . .
4 Is Rubicon Bezique still played in England ?
There was a mania for it at that time. The floor of
Keeb's Palladio-Gargantuan hall was dotted with
innumerable little tables. I didn't know how to
play. My hostess told me I must " come and
amuse the dear old Duke and Duchess of Mull," and
led me to a remote sofa on which an old gentleman
had just sat down beside an old lady. They looked
at me with a dim kind interest. My hostess had
set me and left me on a small gilt chair in front of
them. Before going she had conveyed to them
loudly — one of them was very deaf — that I was
" the famous writer." It was a long time before
they understood that I was not a political writer.
The Duke asked me, after a troubled pause, whether
I had known " old Mr. Abraham Hayward." The
Duchess said I was too young to have known Mr.
Hayward, and asked if I knew her " clever friend
Mr. Mallock." I said I had just been reading Mr.
Mallock's new novel. I heard myself shouting a
confused precis of the plot. The place where we
were sitting was near the foot of the great marble
staircase. I said how beautiful the staircase was.
The Duchess of Mull said she had never cared very
much for that staircase. The Duke, after a pause,
said he had " often heard old Mr. Abraham Hayward
hold a whole dinner table." There were long and
frequent pauses — between which I heard myself
talking loudly, frantically, sinking lower and lower
in the esteem of my small audience. I felt like a
man drowning under the eyes of an elderly couple
who sit on the bank regretting that they can offer
no assistance. Presently the Duke looked at his
watch and said to the Duchess that it was " time to
be thinking of bed."
' They rose, as it were from the bank, and left
me, so to speak, under water. I watched them as
they passed slowly out of sight up the marble stair-
case which I had mispraised. I turned and surveyed
the brilliant, silent scene presented by the card-
" I wondered what old Mr. Abraham Hay ward
would have done in my place. Would he have just
darted in among those tables and " held " them ?
I presumed that he would not have stolen silently
away, quickly and cravenly away, up the marble
staircase — as / did.
4 1 don't know which was the greater, the relief
or the humiliation of finding myself in my bedroom.
Perhaps the humiliation was the greater. There, on
a chair, was my grand new smoking-suit, laid out
for me — what a mockery ! Once I had foreseen
myself wearing it in the smoking-room at a late
hour — the centre of a group of eminent men en-
tranced by the brilliancy of my conversation. And
now — ! I was nothing but a small, dull, soup-
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
stained, sticking-plastered, nerve-racked recluse.
Nerves, yes. I assured myself that I had not seen
— what I had seemed to see. All very odd, of
course, and very unpleasant, but easily explained.
Nerves. Excitement of coming to Keeb too much
for me. A good night's rest : that was all I needed.
To-morrow I should laugh at myself.
' I wondered that I wasn't tired physically.
There my grand new silk pyjamas were, yet I felt
no desire to go to bed . . . none while it was still
possible for me to go. The little writing-table at
the foot of my bed seemed to invite me. I had
brought with me in my portmanteau a sheaf of
letters, letters that I had purposely left unanswered
in order that I might answer them on Keeb Hall
note-paper. These the footman had neatly laid
beside the blotting-pad on that little writing-table
at the foot of the bed. I regretted that the note-
paper stacked there had no ducal coronet on it.
What matter ? The address sufficed. If I hadn't
yet made a good impression on the people who were
staying here, I could at any rate make one on the
people who weren't. I sat down. I set to work.
I wrote a prodigious number of fluent and graceful
1 Some of these were to strangers who wanted my
autograph. I was always delighted to send my
autograph, and never perfunctory in the manner of
sending it. . . " Dear Madam," I remember writing
to somebody that night, " were it not that you
make your request for it so charmingly, I should
hesitate to send you that which rarity alone can
render valuable. — Yours truly, Hilary Maltby." I
remember reading this over and wondering whether
the word " render " looked rather commercial. It
was in the act of wondering thus that I raised my
eyes from the note-paper and saw, through the bars
of the brass bedstead, the naked sole of a large
human foot — saw beyond it the calf of a great leg ;
a nightshirt ; and the face of Stephen Braxton. I
did not move.
4 1 thought of making a dash for the door, dashing
out into the corridor, shouting at the top of my
voice for help. I sat quite still.
* What kept me to my chair was the fear that if
I tried to reach the door Braxton would spring off
the bed to intercept me. If I sat quite still perhaps
he wouldn't move. I felt that if he moved I
should collapse utterly.
4 1 watched him, and he watched me. He lay
there with his body half-raised, one elbow propped
on the pillow, his jaw sunk on his breast ; and from
under his black brows he watched me steadily.
' No question of mere nerves now. That hope
was gone. No mere optical delusion, this abiding
presence. Here Braxton was. He and I were
together in the bright, silent room. How long
would he be content to watch me ?
4 Eleven nights ago he had given me one horrible
look. It was this look that I had to meet, in
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
infinite prolongation, now, not daring to shift my
eyes. He lay as motionless as I sat. I did not
hear him breathing, but I knew, by the rise and
fall of his chest under his nightshirt, that he was
breathing heavily.- Suddenly I started to my feet.
For he had moved. He had raised one hand
slowly. He was stroking his chin. And as he did
so, and as he watched me, his mouth gradually
slackened to a grin. It was worse, it was more
malign, this grin, than the scowl that remained with
it ; and its immediate effect on me was an impulse
that was as hard to resist as it was hateful. The
window was open. It was nearer to me than the
door. I could have reached it in time. . .
' Well, I live to tell the tale. I stood my ground.
And there dawned on me now a new fact in regard
to my companion. I had all the while been conscious
of something abnormal in his attitude — a lack of
ease in his gross possessiveness. I saw now the
reason for this effect. The pillow on which his
elbow rested was still uniformly puffed and convex ;
like a pillow untouched. His elbow rested but on
the very surface of it, not changing the shape of it
at all. His body made not the least furrow along
the bed. . . He had no weight.
" I knew that if I leaned forward and thrust my
hand between those brass rails, to clutch his foot,
I should clutch — nothing. He wasn't tangible. He
was realistic. He wasn't real. He was opaque.
He wasn't solid.
1 Odd as it may seem to you, these certainties
took the edge off my horror. During that walk
with Lady Rodfitten, I had been appalled by the
doubt that haunted me. But now the very con-
firmation of that doubt gave me a sort of courage :
I could cope better with anything to-night than
with actual Braxton. And the measure of the
relief I felt is that I sat down again on my chair.
4 More than once there came to me a wild hope
that the thing might be an optical delusion, after
all. Then would I shut my eyes tightly, shaking
my head sharply ; but, when I looked again, there
the presence was, of course. It — he — not actual
Braxton but, roughly speaking, Braxton — had come
to stay. I was conscious of intense fatigue, taut
and alert though every particle of me was ; so that
I became, in the course of that ghastly night,
conscious of a great envy also. For some time
before the dawn came in through the window,
Braxton's eyes had been closed ; little by little now
his head drooped sideways, then fell on his forearm
and rested there. He was asleep.
4 Cut off from sleep, I had a great longing for
smoke. I had cigarettes on me, I had matches on
me. But I didn't dare to strike a match. The
sound might have waked Braxton up. In slumber
he was less terrible, though perhaps more odious. I
wasn't so much afraid now as indignant. " It's
intolerable," I sat saying to myself, " utterly
intolerable ! "
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
' I had to bear it, nevertheless. I was aware that
I had, in some degree, brought it on myself. If I
hadn't interfered and lied, actual Braxton would
have been here at Keeb, and I at this moment
sleeping soundly. But this was no excuse for
Braxton. Braxton didn't know what I had done.
He was merely envious of me. And — wanly I
puzzled it out in the dawn — by very force of the
envy, hatred, and malice in him he had projected
hither into my presence this simulacrum of himself.
I had known that he would be thinking of me. I
had known that the thought of me at Keeb Hall
would be of the last bitterness to his most sacred
feelings. But — I had reckoned without the pas-
sionate force and intensity of the man's nature.
' If by this same strength and intensity he had
merely projected himself as an invisible guest under
the Duchess' roof — if his feat had been wholly, as
perhaps it was in part, a feat of mere wistfulness
and longing — then I should have felt really sorry
for him ; and my conscience would have soundly
rated me in his behalf. But no ; if the wretched
creature had been invisible to me, I shouldn't have
thought of Braxton at all — except with gladness
that he wasn't here. That he was visible to me,
and to me alone, wasn't any sign of proper remorse
within me. It was but the gauge of his incredible
1 Well, it seemed to me that he was avenged —
with a vengeance. There I sat, hot-browed from
sleeplessness, cold in the feet, stiff in the legs,
cowed and indignant all through — sat there in the
broadening daylight, and in that new evening suit
of mine with the Braxtonised shirtfront and waist-
coat that by day were more than ever loathsome.
Literature's Ambassador at Keeb. . . I rose gin-
gerly from my chair, and caught sight of my face,
of my Braxtonised cheek, in the mirror. I heard
the twittering of birds in distant trees. I saw
through my window the elaborate landscape of the
Duke's grounds, all soft in the grey bloom of early
morning. I think I was nearer to tears than I had
ever been since I was a child. But the weakness
passed. I turned towards the personage on my
bed, and, summoning all such power as was in me,
willed him to be gone. My effort was not without
result — an inadequate result. Braxton turned in
1 1 resumed my seat, and . . . and ... sat up
staring and blinking at a tall man with red hair.
" I must have fallen asleep," I said. " Yessir,"
he replied ; and his toneless voice touched in me
one or two springs of memory : I was at Keeb ;
this was the footman who looked after me. But —
why wasn't I in bed ? Had I — no, surely it had
been no nightmare. Surely I had seen Braxton on
that white bed.
1 The footman was impassively putting away my
smoking-suit. I was too dazed to wonder what he
thought of me. Nor did I attempt to stifle a cry
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
when, a moment later, turning in my chair, I beheld
Braxton leaning moodily against the mantelpiece.
" Are you unwellsir ? " asked the footman. " No,"
I said faintly, " I'm quite well."— " Yessir. Will
you wear the blue suit or the grey ? " — " The grey."
— " Yessir." — It seemed almost incredible that he
didn't see Braxton ; he didn't appear to me one
whit more solid than the night-shirted brute who
stood against the mantelpiece and watched him lay
out my things. — " Shall I let your bath-water run
nowsir ? " — " Please, yes." — " Your bathroom's the
second door to the leftsir." — He went out with my
bath-towel and sponge, leaving me alone with
4 1 rose to my feet, mustering once more all the
strength that was in me. Hoping against hope, with
set teeth and clenched hands, I faced him, thrust
forth my will at him, with everything but words
commanded him to vanish — to cease to be.
• Suddenly, utterly, he vanished. And you can
imagine the truly exquisite sense of triumph that
thrilled me and continued to thrill me till I went
into the bathroom and found him in my bath.
4 Quivering with rage, I returned to my bedroom.
" Intolerable," I heard myself repeating like a
parrot that knew no other word. A bath was just
what I had needed. Could I have lain for a long
time basking in very hot water, and then have
sponged myself with cold water, I should have
emerged calm and brave ; comparatively so, at
any rate. I should have looked less ghastly, and
have had less of a headache, and something of an
appetite, when I went down to breakfast. Also, I
shouldn't have been the very first guest to appear
on the scene. There were five or six round tables,
instead of last night's long table. At the further
end of the room the butler and two other servants
were lighting the little lamps under the hot dishes.
I didn't like to make myself ridiculous by running
away. On the other hand, was it right for me to
begin breakfast all by myself at one of these round
tables ? I supposed it was. But I dreaded to be
found eating, alone in that vast room, by the first
downcomer. I sat dallying with dry toast and
watching the door. It occurred to me that Braxton
might occur at any moment. Should I be able to
ignore him ?
1 Some man and wife — a very handsome couple —
were the first to appear. They nodded and said
" good morning " when they noticed me on their
way to the hot dishes. I rose — uncomfortably,
guiltily — and sat down again. I rose again when
the wife drifted to my table, followed by the husband
with two steaming plates. She asked me if it
wasn't a heavenly morning, and I replied with
nervous enthusiasm that it was. She then ate
kedgeree in silence. " You just finishing, what ? "
the husband asked, looking at my plate. " Oh,
no — no — only just beginning," I assured him, and
helped myself to butter. He then ate kedgeree in
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
silence. He looked like some splendid bull, and she
like some splendid cow, grazing. I envied them
their eupeptic calm. I surmised that ten thousand
Braxtons would not have prevented them from
sleeping soundly by night and grazing steadily by
day. Perhaps their stolidity infected me a little.
Or perhaps what braced me was the great quantity
of strong tea that I consumed. Anyhow, I had
begun to feel that if Braxton came in now I shouldn't
blench nor falter.
4 Well, I wasn't put to the test. Plenty of people
drifted in, but Braxton wasn't one of them. Lady
Rodfitten — no, she didn't drift, she marched, in ;
and presently, at an adjacent table, she was drawing
a comparison, in clarion tones, between Jean and
Edouard de Reszke. It seemed to me that her own
voice had much in common with Edouard 's. Even
more was it akin to a military band. I found
myself beating time to it with my foot. Decidedly,
my spirits had risen. I was in a mood to face and
outface anything. When I rose from the table and
made my way to the door, I walked with something
of a swing — to the tune of Lady Rodfitten.
4 My buoyancy didn't last long, though. There
was no swing in my walk when, a little later, I
passed out on to the spectacular terrace. I had
seen my enemy again, and had beaten a furious
retreat. No doubt I should see him yet again
soon — here, perhaps, on this terrace. Two of the
guests were bicycling slowly up and down the long
paven expanse, both of them smiling with pride in
the new delicious form of locomotion. There was a
great array of bicycles propped neatly along the
balustrade. I recognised my own among them. I
wondered whether Braxton had projected from
Clifford's Inn an image of his own bicycle. He
may have done so ; but I've no evidence that he
did. I myself was bicycling when next I saw him ;
but he, I remember, was on foot.
1 This was a few minutes later. I was bicycling
with dear Lady Rodfitten. She seemed really to
like me. She had come out and accosted me
heartily on the terrace, asking me, because of my
sticking-plaster, with whom I had fought a duel
since yesterday. I did not tell her with whom, and
she had already branched off on the subject of
duelling in general. She regretted the extinction of
duelling in England, and gave cogent reasons for
her regret. Then she asked me what my next book
was to be. I confided that I was writing a sort of
sequel — " Ariel Returns to Mayfair." She shook
her head, said with her usual soundness that sequels
were very dangerous things, and asked me to tell
her " briefly " the lines along which I was working.
I did so. She pointed out two or three weak points
in my scheme. She said she could judge better if I
would let her see my manuscript. She asked me to
come and lunch with her next Friday — " just our two
selves " — at Rodfitten House, and to bring my manu-
script with me. Need I say that I walked on air ?
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
• M And now," she said strenuously, " let us take
a turn on our bicycles." By this time there were a
dozen riders on the terrace, all of them smiling with
pride and rapture. We mounted and rode along
together. The terrace ran round two sides of the
house, and before we came to the end of it these
words had provisionally marshalled themselves in
my mind :
COUNTESS OF RODFITTEN
THIS BOOK WHICH OWES ALL
TO HER WISE COUNSEL
AND UNWEARYING SUPERVISION
IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED
BY HER FRIEND
1 Smiled to masonically by the passing bicyclists,
and smiling masonically to them in return, I began
to feel that the rest of my visit would run smooth,
4 " Let's go a little faster. Let's race ! " said
Lady Rodfitten ; and we did so — " just our two
selves." I was on the side nearer to the balustrade,
and it was on that side that Braxton suddenly
appeared from nowhere, solid-looking as a rock, his
arms akimbo, less than three yards ahead of me, so
that I swerved involuntarily, sharply, strikin
broadside the front wheel of Lady Rodfitten and
collapsing with her, and with a crash of machinery,
to the ground.
4 1 wasn't hurt. She had broken my fall. I
wished I was dead. She was furious. She sat
speechless with fury. A crowd had quickly collected
— just as in the case of a street accident. She
accused me now to the crowd. She said I had done
it on purpose. She said such terrible things of me
that I think the crowd's sympathy must have
veered towards me. She was assisted to her feet.
I tried to be one of the assistants. " Don't let him
come near me ! " she thundered. I caught sight of
Braxton on the fringe of the crowd, grinning at me.
" It was all his fault," I madly cried, pointing at
him. Everybody looked at Mr. Balfour, just
behind whom Braxton was standing. There was a
general murmur of surprise, in which I have no
doubt Mr. Balfour joined. He gave a charming,
blank, deprecating smile. " I mean — I can't explain
what I mean," I groaned. Lady Rodfitten moved
away, refusing support, limping terribly, towards
the house. The crowd followed her, solicitous. I
stood helplessly, desperately, where I was.
4 1 stood an outlaw, a speck on the now empty
terrace. Mechanically I picked up my straw hat,
and wheeled the two bent bicycles to the balustrade.
I suppose Mr. Balfour has a charming nature. For
he presently came out again — on purpose, I am
sure, to alleviate my misery. He told me that
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
Lady Rodfitten had suffered no harm. He took me
for a stroll up and down the terrace, talking thought-
fully and enchantingly about things in general.
Then, having done his deed of mercy, this Good
Samaritan went back into the house. My eyes
followed him with gratitude ; but I was still
bleeding from wounds beyond his skill. I escaped
down into the gardens. I wanted to see no one.
Still more did I want to be seen by no one. I
dreaded in every nerve of me my reappearance
among those people. I walked ever faster and
faster, to stifle thought ; but in vain. Why hadn't
I simply ridden through Braxton ? I was aware of
being now in the park, among great trees and
undulations of wild green ground. But Nature did
not achieve the task that Mr. Balfour had attempted ;
and my anguish was unassuaged.
' I paused to lean against a tree in the huge
avenue that led to the huge hateful house. I
leaned wondering whether the thought of re-entering
that house were the more hateful because I should
have to face my fellow-guests or because I should
probably have to face Braxton. A church bell
began ringing somewhere. And anon I was aware
of another sound — a twitter of voices. A consign-
ment of hatted and parasoled ladies was coming fast
adown the avenue. My first impulse was to dodge
behind my tree. But I feared that I had been
observed ; so that what was left to me of self-
respect compelled me to meet these ladies.
4 The Duchess was among them. I had seen her
from afar at breakfast, but not since. She carried
a prayer-book, which she waved to me as I ap-
proached. I was a disastrous guest, but still a
guest, and nothing could have been prettier than
her smile. " Most of my men this week," she said,
" are Pagans, and all the others have dispatch-boxes
to go through — except the dear old Duke of Mull,
who's a member of the Free Kirk. You're Pagan,
of course ? "
* I said — and indeed it was a heart-cry — that I
should like very much to come to church. " If I
shan't be in the way," I rather abjectly added. It
didn't strike me that Braxton would try to intercept
me. I don't know why, but it never occurred to
me, as I walked briskly along beside the Duchess,
that I should meet him so far from the house. The
church was in a corner of the park, and the way to
it was by a side path that branched off from the
end of the avenue. A little way along, casting its
shadow across the path, was a large oak. It was
from behind this tree, when we came to it, that
Braxton sprang suddenly forth and tripped me up
with his foot.
1 Absurd to be tripped up by the mere semblance
of a foot ? But remember, I was walking quickly,
and the whole thing happened in a flash of time. It
was inevitable that I should throw out my hands
and come down headlong — just as though the
obstacle had been as real as it looked. Down I
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
came on palms and knee-caps, and up I scrambled,
very much hurt and shaken and apologetic. " Poor
Mr. Maltby ! Really — ! " the Duchess wailed for
me in this latest of my mishaps. Some other lady
chased my straw hat, which had bowled far ahead.
Two others helped to brush me. They were all
very kind, with a quaver of mirth in their concern
for me. I looked furtively around for Braxton, but
he was gone. The palms of my hands were abraded
with gravel. The Duchess said I must on no
account come to church now. I was utterly
determined to reach that sanctuary. I marched
firmly on with the Duchess. Come what might
on the way, I wasn't going to be left out
here. I was utterly bent on winning at least one
4 Well, I reached the little church without further
molestation. To be there seemed almost too good
to be true. The organ, just as we entered, sounded
its first notes. The ladies rustled into the front
pew. I, being the one male of the party, sat at the
end of the pew, beside the Duchess. I couldn't help
feeling that my position was a proud one. But I
had gone through too much to take instant pleasure
in it, and was beset by thoughts of what new horror
might await me on the way back to the house. I
hoped the Service would not be brief. The swelling
and dwindling strains of the " voluntary " on the
small organ were strangely soothing. I turned to
give an almost feudal glance to the simple villagers
in the pews behind, and saw a sight that cowed
4 Braxton was coming up the aisle. He came
slowly, casting a tourist's eye at the stained-glass
windows on either side. Walking heavily, yet with
no sound of boots on the pavement, he reached our
pew. There, towering and glowering, he halted, as
though demanding that we should make room for
him. A moment later he edged sullenly into the
pew. Instinctively I had sat tight back, drawing
my knees aside, in a shudder of revulsion against
contact. But Braxton did not push past me.
What he did was to sit slowly and fully down
1 No, not down on me. Down through me
and around me. What befell me was not mere
ghastly contact with the intangible. It was inclu-
sion, envelopment, eclipse. What Braxton sat
down on was not I, but the seat of the pew ; and
what he sat back against was not my face and
chest, but the back of the pew. I didn't realise this
at the moment. All I knew was a sudden black
blotting-out of all things ; an infinite and impene-
trable darkness. I dimly conjectured that I was
dead. What was wrong with me, in point of fact,
was that my eyes, with the rest of me, were inside
Braxton. You remember what a great hulking
fellow Braxton was. I calculate that as we sat
there my eyes were just beneath the roof of his
mouth. Horrible !
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
4 Out of the unfathomable depths of that pitch
darkness, I could yet hear the " voluntary " swelling
and dwindling, just as before. It was by this I
knew now that I wasn't dead. And I suppose I
must have craned my head forward, for I had a
sudden glimpse of things — a close quick downward
glimpse of a pepper-and-salt waistcoat and of two
great hairy hands clasped across it. Then darkness
again. Either I had drawn back my head, or
Braxton had thrust his forward ; I don't know
which. " Are you all right ? " the Duchess' voice
whispered, and no doubt my face was ashen.
" Quite," whispered my voice. But this pathetic
monosyllable was the last gasp of the social instinct
in me. Suddenly, as the " voluntary " swelled to
its close, there was a great sharp shuffling noise.
The congregation had risen to its feet, at the entry
of choir and vicar. Braxton had risen, leaving me
in daylight. I beheld his towering back. The
Duchess, beside him, glanced round at me. But I
could not, dared not, stand up into that presented
back, into that great waiting darkness. I did but
clutch my hat from beneath the seat and hurry
distraught down the aisle, out through the porch,
into the open air.
4 Whither ? To what goal ? I didn't reason. I
merely fled — like Orestes ; fled like an automaton
along the path we had come by. And was followed ?
Yes, yes. Glancing back across my shoulder, I saw
that brute some twenty yards behind me, gaining
on me. I broke into a sharper run. A few sickening
moments later, he was beside me, scowling down
into my face.
4 1 swerved, dodged, doubled on my tracks, but
he was always at me. Now and again, for lack of
breath, I halted, and he halted with me. And then,
when I had got my wind, I would start running
again, in the insane hope of escaping him. We
came, by what twisting and turning course I know
not, to the great avenue, and as I stood there in an
agony of panting I had a dazed vision of the distant
Hall. Really I had quite forgotten I was staying
at the Duke of Hertfordshire's. But Braxton
hadn't forgotten. He planted himself in front of
me. He stood between me and the house.
1 Faint though I was, I could almost have laughed.
Good heavens ! was that all he wanted : that I
shouldn't go back there ? Did he suppose I wanted
to go back there — with him ? Was I the Duke's
prisoner on parole ? What was there to prevent
me from just walking off to the railway station ?
I turned to do so.
* He accompanied me on my way. I thought
that when once I had passed through the lodge
gates he might vanish, satisfied. But no, he didn't
vanish. It was as though he suspected that if he
let me out of his sight I should sneak back to the
house. He arrived with me, this quiet companion
of mine, at the little railway station. Evidently he
meant to see me off. I learned from an elderly and
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
solitary porter that the next train to London was
4 Well, Braxton saw me off by the 4.3. I reflected,
as I stepped up into an empty compartment, that
it wasn't yet twenty-four hours ago since I, or some
one like me, had alighted at that station.
' The guard blew his whistle ; the engine shrieked,
and the train jolted forward and away ; but I did
not lean out of the window to see the last of my
' Really not twenty-four hours ago ? Not twenty-
four years ? '
Maltby paused in his narrative. ' Well, well,' he
said, ' I don't want you to think I overrate the
ordeal of my visit to Keeb. A man of stronger
nerve than mine, and of greater resourcefulness,
might have coped successfully with Braxton from
first to last — might have stayed on till Monday,
making a very favourable impression on every one
all the while. Even as it was, even after my
manifold failures and sudden flight, I don't say my
position was impossible. I only say it seemed so
to me. A man less sensitive than I, and less vain,
might have cheered up after writing a letter of
apology to his hostess, and have resumed his normal
existence as though nothing very terrible had
happened, after all. I wrote a few lines to the
Duchess that night ; but I wrote amidst the pre-
parations for my departure from England : I
crossed the Channel next morning. Throughout
that Sunday afternoon with Braxton at the Keeb
railway station, pacing the desolate platform with
him, waiting in the desolating waiting-room with
him, I was numb to regrets, and was thinking of
nothing but the 4.3. On the way to Victoria my
brain worked and my soul wilted. Every incident
in my stay at Keeb stood out clear to me ; a dreadful,
a hideous pattern. I had done for myself, so far as
those people were concerned. And now that I had
sampled them, what cared I for others ? " Too low
for a hawk, too high for a buzzard." That homely
old saying seemed to sum me up. And suppose I
could still take pleasure in the company of my own
old upper-middle class, how would that class regard
me now ? Gossip percolates. Little by little, I
was sure, the story of my Keeb fiasco would leak
down into the drawing-room of Mrs. Foster-Dugdale.
I felt I could never hold up my head in any com-
pany where anything of that story was known. Are
you quite sure you never heard anything ? '
I assured Maltby that all I had known was the
great bare fact of his having stayed at Keeb
4 It's curious,' he reflected. ' It's a fine illustra-
tion of the loyalty of those people to one another.
I suppose there was a general agreement for the
Duchess' sake that nothing should be said about
her queer guest. But even if I had dared hope to
be so efficiently hushed up, I couldn't have not
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
fled. I wanted to forget. I wanted to leap into
some void, far away from all remindeis. I leapt
straight from Ryder Street into Vaule-la-Rochette,
a place of which I had once heard that it was the
least frequented seaside-resort in Europe. I leapt
leaving no address — leapt telling my landlord that
if a suit-case and a portmanteau arrived for me he
could regard them, them and their contents, as his
own for ever. I daresay the Duchess wrote me a
kind little letter, forcing herself to express a vague
hope that I would come again " some other time."
I daresay Lady Rodfitten did not write reminding
me of my promise to lunch on Friday and bring
" Ariel Returns to Mayfair " with me. I left that
manuscript at Ryder Street ; in my bedroom
grate ; a shuffle of ashes. Not that I'd yet
given up all thought of writing. But I certainly
wasn't going to write now about the two things
I most needed to forget. I wasn't going to write
about the British aristocracy, nor about any kind
of supernatural presence. . . I did write a novel
— my last — while I was at Vaule. " Mr. and
Mrs. Robinson." Did you ever come across a
copy of it ? '
I nodded gravely.
' Ah ; I wasn't sure,' said Maltby, ' whether it
was ever published. A dreary affair, wasn't it ? I
knew a great deal about suburban life. But — well,
I suppose one can't really understand what one
doesn't love, and one can't make good fun without
real understanding. Besides, what chance of virtue
is there for a book written merely to distract the
author's mind ? I had hoped to be healed by sea
and sunshine and solitude. These things were
useless. The labour of " Mr. and Mrs. Robinson "
did help, a little. When I had finished it, I thought
I might as well send it off to my publisher. He had
given me a large sum of money, down, after " Ariel,"
for my next book — so large that I was rather loth
to disgorge. In the note I sent with the manuscript,
I gave no address, and asked that the proofs should
be read in the office. I didn't care whether the thing
were published or not. I knew it would be a dead
failure if it were. What mattered one more drop in
the foaming cup of my humiliation ? I knew Braxton
would grin and gloat. I didn't mind even that.'
1 Oh, well,' I said, ' Braxton was in no mood for
grinning and gloating. " The Drones " had already
Maltby had never heard of 4 The Drones ' —
which I myself had remembered only in the course
of his disclosures. I explained to him that it was
Braxton's second novel, and was by way of being
, a savage indictment of the British aristocracy ;
that it was written in the worst possible taste, but
was so very dull that it fell utterly flat ; that
Braxton had forthwith taken, with all of what
Maltby had called ■ the passionate force and inten-
sity of his nature,' to drink, and had presently gone
under and not re-emerged.
MALTBY AND BRAXTON
Maltby gave signs of genuine, though not deep,
emotion, and cited two or three of the finest
passages from ' A Faun on the Cotswolds.' He
even expressed a conviction that * The Drones '
must have been misjudged. He said he blamed
himself more than ever for yielding to that bad
impulse at that Soiree.
4 And yet,' he mused, ' and yet, honestly, I
can't find it in my heart to regret that I did yield.
I can only wish that all had turned out as well, in
the end, for Braxton as for me. I wish he could
have won out, as I did, into a great and lasting
felicity. For about a year after I had finished
" Mr. and Mrs. Robinson " I wandered from place
to place, trying to kill memory, shunning all places
frequented by the English. At last I found myself
in Lucca. Here, if anywhere, I thought, might a
bruised and tormented spirit find gradual peace. I
determined to move out of my hotel into some
permanent lodging. Not for felicity, not for any
complete restoration of self-respect, was I hoping ;
only for peace. A " mezzano " conducted me to a
noble and ancient house, of which, he told me, the
owner was anxious to let the first floor. It was in
much disrepair, but even so seemed to me very
cheap. According to the simple Luccan standard,
I am rich. I took that first floor for a year, had it
repaired, and engaged two servants. My " padrona"
inhabited the ground floor. From time to time she
allowed me to visit her there. She was the Contessa
Adriano-Rizzoli, the last of her line. She is the
Contessa Adriano-Rizzoli-Maltby. We have been
married fifteen years.'
Maltby looked at his watch. He rose and took
tenderly from the table his great bunch of roses.
1 She is a lineal descendant,' he said, ' of the
September 17, 1912
THOUGH seven years have gone by since the
day when last I saw him, and though that
day was but the morrow of my first meeting
with him, I was shocked when I saw in my news-
paper this morning the announcement of his
I had formed, in the dim past, the habit of
spending August in Dieppe. The place was less
popular then than it is now. Some pleasant English
people shared it with some pleasant French people.
We used rather to resent the race-week — the third
week of the month — as an intrusion on our privacy.
We sneered as we read in the Paris edition of the
New York Herald the names of the intruders.
We disliked the nightly crush in the baccarat room
of the Casino, and the croupiers' obvious excitement
at the high play. I made a point of avoiding that
room during that week, for the especial reason that
the sight of serious, habitual gamblers has always
filled me with a depression bordering on disgust.
Most of the men, by some subtle stress of their
ruling passion, have grown so monstrously fat, and
most of the women so harrowingly thin. The rest
of the women seem to be marked out for apoplexy,
and the rest of the men to be wasting away. One
feels that anything thrown at them would be either
embedded or shattered, and looks vainly among
them for a person furnished with the normal amount
of flesh. Monsters they are, all of them, to the eye
(though I believe that many of them have excellent
moral qualities in private life) ; but, just as in an
American town one goes sooner or later — goes
against one's finer judgment, but somehow goes —
into the dime-museum, so, year by year, in Dieppe's
race-week, there would be always one evening when
I drifted into the baccarat room. It was on such
an evening that I first saw the man whose memory
I here celebrate. My gaze was held by him for the
very reason that he would have passed unnoticed
elsewhere. He was conspicuous, not in virtue of
the mere fact that he was taking the bank at the
principal table, but because there was nothing at
all odd about him.
Between his lips was a cigar of moderate size.
Everything about him, except the amount of money
he had been winning, seemed moderate. Just as
he was neither fat nor thin, so had his face neither
that extreme pallor nor that extreme redness which
belongs to the faces of seasoned gamblers : it was
just a clear pink. And his eyes had neither the
unnatural brightness nor the unnatural dullness of
the eyes around him : they were ordinarily clear
eyes, of an ordinary grey. His very age was
moderate : a putative thirty-six, not more. (" Not
less," I would have said in those days.) He assumed
no air of nonchalance. He did not deal out the
cards as though they bored him. But he had no
look of grim concentration. I noticed that the
removal of his cigar from his mouth made never
the least difference to his face, for he kept his lips
pursed out as steadily as ever when he was not
smoking. And this constant pursing of his lips
seemed to denote just a pensive interest.
His bank was nearly done now. There were but
a few cards left. Opposite to him was a welter of
parti-coloured counters which the croupier had not
yet had time to sort out and add to the rouleaux
already made ; there were also a fair accumulation
of notes and several little stacks of gold. In all, not
less than five hundred pounds, certainly. Happy
banker ! How easily had he won in a few minutes
more than I, with utmost pains, could earn in many
months ! I wished I were he. His lucre seemed to
insult me personally. I disliked him. And yet I
hoped he would not take another bank. I hoped
he would have the good sense to pocket his winnings
and go home. Deliberately to risk the loss of all
those riches would intensify the insult to myself.
4 Messieurs, la banque est aux encheres ! ' There
was some brisk bidding, while the croupier tore
open and shuffled the two new packs. But it was
as I feared : the gentleman whom I resented kept
' Messieurs, la banque est faite. Quinze mille
francs a la banque. Messieurs, les cartes passent !
Messieurs, les cartes passent ! '
Turning to go, I encountered a friend — one of the
race-weekers, but in a sense a friend.
' Going to play ? ' I asked.
' Not while Jimmy Pethel's taking the bank,' he
answered, with a laugh.
1 Is that the man's name ? '
4 Yes. Don't you know him ? I thought every
one knew old Jimmy Pethel.'
I asked what there was so wonderful about ' old
Jimmy Pethel ' that every one should be supposed
to know him.
1 Oh, he's a great character. Has extraordinary
I do not think my friend was versed in the pretty
theory that good luck is the unconscious wisdom of
them who in previous incarnations have been
consciously wise. He was a member of the Stock
Exchange, and I smiled as at a certain quaintness
in his remark. I asked in what ways besides luck
the ' great character ' was manifested. Oh, well,
Pethel had made a huge l scoop ' on the Stock
Exchange when he was only twenty-three, and very
soon doubled that, and doubled it again ; then
retired. He wasn't more than thirty-five now.
And ? Oh, well, he was a regular all-round sports-
man — had gone after big game all over the world
and had a good many narrow shaves. Great
steeple-chaser, too. Rather settled down now.
Lived in Leicestershire mostly. Had a big place
there. Hunted five times a week. Still did an
occasional flutter, though. Cleared eighty thousand
in Mexicans last February. Wife had been a bar-
maid at Cambridge. Married her when he was
nineteen. Thing seemed to have turned out quite
well. Altogether, a great character.
Possibly, thought I. But my cursory friend,
accustomed to quick transactions and to things
accepted i on the nod,' had not proved his case to
my slower, more literary intelligence. It was to
him, however, that I owed, some minutes later, a
chance of testing his opinion. At the cry of
4 Messieurs, la banque est aux encheres ■ we looked
round and saw that the subject of our talk was
preparing to rise from his place. ' Now one can
punt ! ' said Grierson (this was my friend's name),
and turned to the bureau at which counters are for
sale. 4 If old Jimmy Pethel punts,' he added, * I
shall just follow his luck.' But this lodestar was
not to be. While my friend was buying his counters,
and I wondering whether I too would buy some,
Pethel himself came up to the bureau. With his
lips no longer pursed, he had lost his air of gravity,
and looked younger. Behind him was an attendant
bearing a big wooden bowl — that plain but romantic
bowl supplied by the establishment to a banker
whose gains are too great to be pocketed. He and
Grierson greeted each other. He said he had
arrived in Dieppe this afternoon — was here for a
day or two. We were introduced. He spoke to me
with some empressement, saying he was a ' very
great admirer ' of my work. I no longer disliked
him. Grierson, armed with counters, had now
darted away to secure a place that had just been
vacated. Pethel, with a wave of his hand towards
the tables, said, ' I suppose you never condescend
to this sort of thing ? '
1 Well ■ I smiled indulgently.
4 Awful waste of time,' he admitted.
I glanced down at the splendid mess of counters
and gold and notes that were now becoming, under
the swift fingers of the little man at the bureau, an
orderly array. I did not say aloud that it pleased
me to be, and to be seen, talking, on terms of
equality, to a man who had won so much. I did
not say how wonderful it seemed to me that he,
whom I had watched just now with awe and with
aversion, had all the while been a great admirer of
my work. I did but say (again indulgently) that I
supposed baccarat to be as good a way of wasting
time as another.
4 Ah, but you despise us all the same ! ' He
added that he always envied men who had resources
within themselves. I laughed lightly, to imply
that it was very pleasant to have such resources,
but that I didn't want to boast. And indeed, I
had never, I vow, felt flimsier than when the
little man at the bureau, naming a fabulous sum,
asked its owner whether he would take the main
part in notes of mille francs ? cinq mille ? dix
mille ? quoi ? Had it been mine, I should have
asked to have it all in five-franc pieces. Pethel took
it in the most compendious form and crumpled it
into a pocket. I asked if he were going to play any-
1 Oh, later on,' he said. ' 1 want to get a little
sea-air into my lungs now - ; and he asked with a
sort of breezy diffidence if I would go with him. I
was glad to do so. It flashed across my mind that
yonder on the terrace he might suddenly blurt out,
4 1 say, look here, don't think me awfully impertinent,
but this money's no earthly use to me : I do wish
you'd accept it, as a very small return for all the
pleasure your work has given me, and . . . There !
Please ! Not another word ! ' — all with such can-
dour, delicacy, and genuine zeal that I should be
unable to refuse. But I must not raise false hopes
in my reader. Nothing of the sort happened.
Nothing of that sort ever does happen.
We were not long on the terrace. It was not a
night on which you could stroll and talk : there was
a wind against which you had to stagger, holding
your hat on tightly and shouting such remarks as
might occur to you. Against that wind acquain-
tance could make no headway. Yet I see now that
despite that wind — or rather because of it — I ought
already to have known Pethel a little better than
I did when we presently sat down together inside
the cafe of the Casino. There had been a point in
our walk, or our stagger, when we paused to lean
over the parapet, looking down at the black and
driven sea. And Pethel had shouted that it would
be great fun to be out in a sailing-boat to-night and
that at one time he had been very fond of sailing.
As we took our seats in the cafe, he looked around
him with boyish interest and pleasure. Then,
squaring his arms on the little table, he asked me
what I would drink. I protested that I was the
host — a position which he, with the quick courtesy
of the very rich, yielded to me at once. I feared
he would ask for champagne, and was gladdened by
his demand for water. ' Apollinaris ? St. Galmier ?
Or what ? ' I asked. He preferred plain water. I
felt bound to warn him that such water was never
' safe p in these places. He said he had often heard
that, but would risk it. I remonstrated, but he
was firm. ' Alors,' I told the waiter, 4 pour Monsieur
un verre d'eau fraiche, et pour moi un demi blonde.'
Pethel asked me to tell him who every one was. I
told him no one was any one in particular, and
suggested that we should talk about ourselves.
1 You mean,' he laughed, ' that you want to know
who the devil I am ? ' I assured him that I had
often heard of him. At this he was unaffectedly
pleased. * But,' I added, ' it's always more interest-
ing to hear a man talked about by himself.' And
indeed, since he had not handed his winnings over
to me, I did hope he would at any rate give me
some glimpses into that 4 great character ' of his.
Full though his life had been, he seemed but like a
rather clever schoolboy out on a holiday. I wanted
to know more.
1 That beer does look good,' he admitted when the
waiter came back. I asked him to change his
mind. But he shook his head, raised to his lips
the tumbler of water that had been placed before
him, and meditatively drank a deep draught. ' I
never,' he then said, ' touch alcohol of any sort.'
He looked solemn ; but all men do look solemn
when they speak of their own habits, whether
positive or negative, and no matter how trivial ;
and so (though I had really no warrant for not
supposing him a reclaimed drunkard) I dared ask
him for what reason he abstained.
4 When I say I never touch alcohol,' he said
hastily, in a tone as of self-defence, 4 1 mean that I
don't touch it often — or at any rate — well, I never
touch it when I'm gambling, you know. It — it takes
the edge off.'
His tone did make me suspicious. For a moment
I wondered whether he had married the barmaid
rather for what she symbolised than for what in
herself she was. But no, surely not : he had been
only nineteen years old. Nor in any way had he
now — this steady, brisk, clear-eyed fellow — the
aspect of one who had since fallen. 4 The edge off
the excitement ? ' I asked.
4 Rather ! Of course that sort of excitement
seems awfully stupid to you. But — no use denying
it — I do like a bit of a flutter — just occasionally,
you know. And one has to be in trim for it.
Suppose a man sat down dead drunk to a game of
chance, what fun would it be for him ? None. And
it's only a question of degree. Soothe yourself
ever so little with alcohol, and you don't get quite
the full sensation of gambling. You do lose just a
little something of the proper tremors before a coup,
the proper throes during a coup, the proper thrill
of joy or anguish after a coup. . . You're bound to,
you know,' he added, purposely making this bathos
when he saw me smiling at the heights to which he
4 And to-night,' I asked, remembering his prosai-
cally pensive demeanour in taking the bank, 4 were
you feeling these throes and thrills to the utmost ? '
4 And you'll feel them again to-night ? '
4 1 hope so.'
4 1 wonder you can stay away.'
4 Oh, one gets a bit deadened after an hour or
so. One needs to be freshened up. So long as I
don't bore you '
I laughed, and held out my cigarette-case. 4 1
rather wonder you smoke,' I murmured, after giving
him a light. 4 Nicotine's a sort of drug. Doesn't it
soothe you ? Don't you lose just a little something
of the tremors and things ? ■
He looked at me gravely. ' By Jove,' he ejacu-
lated, 4 1 never thought of that. Perhaps you're
right. 'Pon my word, I must think that over.'
I wondered whether he were secretly laughing at
me. Here was a man to whom (so I conceived, with
an effort of the imagination) the loss or gain of a
few hundred pounds could not matter. I told him
I had spoken in jest. 4 To give up tobacco might,'
I said, 4 intensify the pleasant agonies of a gambler
staking his little all. But in your case — well,
frankly, I don't see where the pleasant agonies
4 You mean because I'm beastly rich ? '
* Rich,' I amended.
4 All depends on what you call rich. Besides, I'm
not the sort of fellow who's content with 3 per cent*
A couple of months ago — I tell you this in confidence
— I risked practically all I had, in an Argentine
4 And lost it ? '
4 No, as a matter of fact I made rather a good
thing out of it. I did rather well last February,
too. But there's no knowing the future. A few
errors of judgment — a war here, a revolution there,
a big strike somewhere else, and — ' He blew a jet
of smoke from his lips, and looked at me as at one
whom he could trust to feel for him in a crash
My sympathy lagged, and I stuck to the point of
my inquiry. ' Meanwhile,' I suggested, ' and all the
more because you aren't merely a rich man, but
also an active taker of big risks, how can these
tiny little baccarat risks give you so much emo-
tion ? '
* There you rather have me,' he laughed. " I've
i often wondered at that myself. I suppose,' he
puzzled it out, 'I do a good lot of make-believe.
While I'm playing a game like this game to-night, I
imagine the stakes are huge, and I imagine I haven't
another penny in the world.'
4 Ah ! So that with you it's always a life-and-
death affair ? '
He looked away. ' Oh, no, I don't say that.'
1 Stupid phrase,' I admitted. ' But,' there was
yet one point I would put to him, * if you have
extraordinary luck — always — '
1 There's no such thing as luck.'
* No, strictly, I suppose, there isn't. But if in
point of fact you always do win, then — well, surely,
perfect luck driveth out fear ? '
1 Who ever said I always won ? ' he asked sharply.
I waved my hands and said, 4 Oh, you have the
reputation, you know, for extraordinary luck.'
1 That isn't the same thing as always winning.
Besides, I haven't extraordinary luck — never have
had. Good heavens,' he exclaimed, 4 if I thought I
had any more chance of winning than of losing,
I'd— I'd— '
1 Never again set foot in that baccarat room
to-night,' I soothingly suggested.
4 Oh, baccarat be blowed ! I wasn't thinking of
baccarat. I was thinking of — oh, lots of things ;
baccarat included, yes.'
4 What things ? ' I ventured to ask.
4 What things ? ' He pushed back his chair, and
4 Look here,' he said with a laugh, 4 don't pretend I
haven't been boring your head off with all this talk
about myself. You've been too patient. I'm off.
Shall I see you to-morrow ? Perhaps you'd lunch
with us to-morrow ? It would be a great pleasure
for my wife. We're at the Hdtei Royal.'
I said I should be most happy, and called the
waiter ; at sight of whom my friend said he had
talked himself thirsty, and asked for another glass
of water. He mentioned that he had brought his
car over with him : his little daughter (by the news
of whose existence I felt idiotically surprised) was
very keen on motoring, and they were all three
starting the day after to-morrow for 4 a spin through
France.' Afterwards, they were going on to Switzer-
land, 4 for some climbing.' Did 1 care about motor-
ing ? If so, we might go for a spin after luncheon,
to Rouen or somewhere ? He drank his glass of
water, and, linking a friendly arm in mine, passed
out with me into the corridor. He asked what I
was writing now, and said that he looked to me to
4 do something big, one of these days,' and that he
was sure I had it 4 in ' me. This remark (though of
course I pretended to be pleased by it) irritated me
very much. It was destined, as you shall see, to
irritate me very much more in recollection.
Yet was I glad he had asked me to luncheon.
Glad because I liked him, glad because I dislike
mysteries. Though you may think me very dense
for not having thoroughly understood Pethel in the
course of my first meeting with him, the fact is that
I was only conscious, and that dimly, of something
more in him than he had cared to reveal — some veil
behind which perhaps lurked his right to the title
so airily bestowed on him by Grierson. I assured
myself, as I walked home, that if veil there were I
should to-morrow find an eyelet.
But one's intuition when it is off duty seems
always so much more powerful an engine than it
does on active service ; and next day, at sight of
Pethel awaiting me outside his hotel, I became less
confident. His, thought I, was a face which, for all
its animation, would tell nothing — nothing, at any
rate, that mattered. It expressed well enough that
he was pleased to see me ; but for the rest, I was
reminded, it had a sort of frank inscrutability.
Besides, it was at all points so very usual a face — a
face that couldn't (so I then thought), even if it had
leave to, betray connexion with a l great character.'
It was a strong face, certainly. But so are yours
And very fresh it looked, though, as he confessed,
Pethel had sat up in ' that beastly baccarat room '
till 5 a.m. I asked, had he lost ? Yes, he had lost
steadily for four hours (proudly he laid stress on
this), but in the end — well (he admitted), he had
won it all back 4 and a bit more.' ' By the way,'
he murmured as we were about to enter the hall,
1 don't ever happen to mention to my wife what I
told you about that Argentine deal. She's always
rather nervous about — investments. I don't tell
her about them. She's rather a nervous woman
altogether, I'm sorry to say.'
This did not square with my preconception of her.
Slave that I am to traditional imagery, I had
figured her as ' flaunting,' as golden-haired, as
haughty to most men but with a provocative smile
across the shoulder for some. Nor indeed did her
husband's words prevent me from the suspicion
that my eyes deceived me when anon I was pre-
sented to a very pale small lady whose hair was
rather white than grey. And the ' little daughter ' !
This prodigy's hair was as yet * down,' but looked
as if it might be up at any moment : she was
nearly as tall as her father, whom she very
much resembled in face and figure and heartiness
of hand-shake. Only after a rapid mental calcu-
lation could I account for her. ' I must warn
you, she's in a great rage this morning,' said her
father. 4 Do try to soothe her.' She blushed,
laughed, and bade her father not be so silly. I
asked her the cause of her great rage. She said
4 He only means I was disappointed. And he was
just as disappointed as I was. Weren't you, now,
Father ? '
4 1 suppose they meant well, Peggy,' he laughed.
4 They were quite right/ said Mrs. Pethel, evidently
not for the first time.
4 They,' as I presently learned, were the authorities
of the bathing establishment. Pethel had promised
his daughter he would take her for a swim ; but on
their arrival at the bathing-cabins they were ruth-
lessly told that bathing was 4 d6fendu a cause du
mauvais temps.' This embargo was our theme as
we sat down to luncheon. Miss Peggy was of
opinion that the French were cowards. I pleaded
for them that even in English watering-places
bathing was forbidden when the sea was very
rough. She did not admit that the sea was very
rough to-day. Besides, she appealed to me, what
was the fun of swimming in absolutely calm water ?
I dared not say that this was the only sort of water
I liked to swim in. 4 They were quite right,' said
Mrs. Pethel yet again.
4 Yes, but, darling Mother, you can't swim.
Father and I are both splendid swimmers.'
To gloze over the mother's disability, I looked
brightly at Pethel, as though in ardent recognition
of his prowess among waves. With a movement of
his head he indicated his daughter — indicated that
there was no one like her in the whole world. I
beamed agreement. Indeed, I did think her rather
nice. If one liked the father (and I liked Pethel all
the more in that capacity), one couldn't help liking
the daughter : the two were so absurdly alike.
Whenever he was looking at her (and it was seldom
that he looked away from her) the effect, if you
cared to be fantastic, was that of a very vain man
before a mirror. It might have occurred to me
that, if there were any mystery in him, I could
solve it through her. But, in point of fact, I had
forgotten all about that possible mystery. The
amateur detective was lost in the sympathetic
observer of a father's love. That Pethel did love
his daughter I have never doubted. One passion is
not less true because another predominates. No one
who ever saw that father with that daughter could
doubt that he loved her intensely. And this in-
tensity gauges for me the strength of what else was
Mrs. Pethel's love, though less explicit, was not
less evidently profound. But the maternal instinct
is less attractive to an onlooker, because he takes it
more for granted, than the paternal. What en-
deared poor Mrs. Pethel to me was — well, the
inevitability of the epithet I give her. She seemed,
poor thing, so essentially out of it ; and by ; it ' is
meant the glowing mutual affinity of husband and
child. Not that she didn't, in her little way, assert
herself during the meal. But she did so, I thought,
with the knowledge that she didn't count, and
never would count. I wondered how it was that
she had, in that Cambridge bar-room long ago,
counted for Pethel to the extent of matrimony. But
from any such room she seemed so utterly remote
that she might well be in all respects now an utterly
changed woman. She did pre-eminently look as if
much had by some means been taken out of her,
with no compensatory process of putting in. Pethel
looked so very young for his age, whereas she
would have had to be quite old to look young for
hers. I pitied her as one might a governess with
two charges who were hopelessly out of hand. But
a governess, I reflected, can always give notice.
Love tied poor Mrs. Pethel fast to her present
As the three of them were to start next day on
their tour through France, and as the four of us
were to make a tour to Rouen this afternoon, the
talk was much about motoring — a theme which
Miss Peggy's enthusiasm made almost tolerable. I
said to Mrs. Pethel, with more good-will than truth,
that I supposed she was 4 very keen on it.' She
replied that she was.
4 But, darling Mother, you aren't. I believe you
hate it. You're always asking Father to go slower.
And what is the fun of just crawling along ? '
4 Oh, come, Peggy, we never crawl,' said her
4 No, indeed,' said her mother, in a tone of which
Pethel laughingly said it would put me off coming
out with them this afternoon. I said, with an
expert air to reassure Mrs. Pethel, that it wasn't
fast driving, but only bad driving, that was a danger.
4 There, Mother ! ' cried Peggy. ' Isn't that what
we're always telling you ? '
I felt that they were always either telling Mrs.
Pethel something or, as in the matter of that in-
tended bath, not telling her something. It seemed
to me possible that Peggy advised her father about
his 4 investments.' I wondered whether they had
yet told Mrs. Pethel of their intention to go on to
Switzerland for some climbing.
Of his secretiveness for his wife's sake I had a
touching little instance after luncheon. We had
adjourned to have coffee in front of the hotel. The
car was already in attendance, and Peggy had
darted off to make her daily inspection of it.
Pethel had given me a cigar, and his wife presently
noticed that he himself was not smoking. He
explained to her that he thought he had smoked
too much lately, and that he was going to ' knock
it off ' for a while. I would not have smiled if he
had met my eye. But his avoidance of it made me
quite sure that he really had been ' thinking over '
what I had said last night about nicotine and its
possibly deleterious action on the gambling thrill.
Mrs. Pethel saw the smile that I could not
repress. I explained that I was wishing / could
knock off tobacco, and envying her husband's
strength of character. She smiled too, but wanly,
with her eyes on him. * Nobody has so much
strength of character as he has,' she said.
* Nonsense ! ' he laughed. 4 I'm the weakest of
1 Yes,' she said quietly. ' That's true, too,
Again he laughed, but he flushed. I saw that
Mrs. Pethel also had faintly flushed ; and I became
horribly conscious of following suit. In the sudden
glow and silence created by Mrs. Pethel's paradox, I
was grateful to the daughter for bouncing back into
our midst and asking how soon we should be ready
Pethel looked at his wife, who looked at me and
rather strangely asked if I were sure I wanted to go
with them. I protested that of course I did.
Pethel asked her if she really wanted to come :
4 You see, dear, there was the run yesterday from
Calais. And to-morrow you'll be on the road again,
and all the days after.'
4 Yes,' said Peggy, ' I'm sure you'd much rather
stay at home, darling Mother, and have a good rest.'
4 Shall we go and put on our things, Peggy ? '
replied Mrs. Pethel, rising from her chair. She
asked her husband whether he were taking the
chauffeur with him. He said he thought not.
1 Oh, hurrah ! ' cried Peggy. 4 Then I can be on
the front seat ! '
1 No, dear,' said her mother. * I am sure Mr.
Beerbohm would like to be on the front seat.'
4 You'd like to be with Mother, wouldn't you ? '
the girl appealed. I replied with all possible
emphasis that I should like to be with Mrs. Pethel.
But presently, when the mother and daughter
reappeared in the guise of motorists, it became clear
that my aspiration had been set aside. ' I am to
be with Mother,' said Peggy.
I was inwardly glad that Mrs. Pethel could, after
all, assert herself to some purpose. Had I thought
she disliked me, I should have been hurt ; but I
was sure her desire that I should not sit with her
was due merely to a belief that a person on the
front seat was less safe in case of accidents than a
person behind. And of course I did not expect her
to prefer my life to her daughter's. Poor lady !
My heart was with her. As the car glided along
the sea-front and then under the Norman archway,
through the town and past the environs, I wished
that her husband inspired in her as much confidence
as he did in me. For me the sight of his clear, firm
profile (he did not wear motor-goggles) was an
assurance in itself. From time to time (for I too
was ungoggled) I looked round to nod and smile
cheerfully at his wife. She always returned the nod,
but left the smile to be returned by the daughter.
Pethel, like the good driver he was, did not talk :
just drove. But he did, as we came out on to the
Rouen road, say that in France he always rather
missed the British police-traps. ' Not,' he added,
1 that I've ever fallen into one. But the chance
that a policeman may at any moment dart out, and
land you in a bit of a scrape, does rather add to the
excitement, don't you think ? ' Though I answered
in the tone of one to whom the chance of a police-
trap is the very salt of life, I did not inwardly like
the spirit of his remark. However, I dismissed it
from my mind ; and the sun was shining, and the
wind had dropped : it was an ideal day for motor-
ing ; and the Norman landscape had never looked
lovelier to me in its width of sober and silvery
I presently felt that this landscape was not, after
all, doing itself full justice. Was it not rushing
rather too quickly past ? ' James ! ' said a shrill,
faint voice from behind ; and gradually — 4 Oh,
darling Mother, really ! ' protested another voice —
the landscape slackened pace. But after a while,
little by little, the landscape lost patience, forgot its
good manners, and flew faster, and faster than
before. The road rushed furiously beneath us, like
a river in spate. Avenues of poplars flashed past
us, every tree of them on either side hissing and
swishing angrily in the draught we made. Motors
going Rouen-wards seemed to be past as quickly as
motors that bore down on us. Hardly had I espied
in the landscape ahead a chateau or other object of
interest before I was craning my neck round for a
final glimpse of it as it faded on the backward
horizon. An endless up-hill road was breasted and
crested in a twinkling and transformed into a
decline near the end of which our car leapt straight
across to the opposite ascent, and — ' James ! -
again, and again by degrees the laws of Nature were
re-established, but again by degrees revoked. I
didn't doubt that speed in itself was no danger ; but
when the road was about to make a sharp curve
why shouldn't Pethel, just as a matter of form, slow
down slightly and sound a note or two of the
hooter ? Suppose another car were — well, that was
all right : the road was clear. But at the next
turning, when our car neither slackened nor hooted
and was, for an instant, full on the wrong side of
the road, I had within me a contraction which (at
thought of what must have been if . . .) lasted
though all was well. Loth to betray fear, I hadn't
turned my face to Pethel. Eyes front ! And how
about that wagon ahead, huge hay-wagon plodding
with its back to us, seeming to occupy whole road ?
Surely Pethel would slacken, hoot ? No. Imagine
a needle threaded with one swift gesture from afar.
Even so was it that we shot, between wagon and
road's edge, through ; whereon, confronting us
within a few yards — inches now, but we swerved —
was a cart, a cart that incredibly we grazed not as
we rushed on, on. Now indeed had I turned my
eyes on Pethel's profile. And my eyes saw there
that which stilled, with a greater emotion, all fear
and wonder in me.
I think that for the first instant, oddly, what I
felt was merely satisfaction, not hatred ; for I all
but asked him whether by not smoking to-day he
had got a keener edge to his thrills. I understood
him, and for an instant this sufficed me. Those
pursed-out lips, so queerly different from the com-
pressed lips of the normal motorist, and seeming, as
elsewhere last night, to denote no more than pensive
interest, had told me suddenly all that I needed to
know about Pethel. Here, as there — and oh, ever
so much better here than there 1 — he could gratify
the passion that was in him. No need of any
4 make-believe ' here ! I remembered the strange
look he had given when I asked if his gambling were
always ' a life-and-death affair.' Here was the real
thing — the authentic game, for the highest stakes !
And here was I, a little extra-stake tossed on to the
board. He had vowed I had it 4 in ' me to do
* something big.' Perhaps, though, there had been
a touch of his make-believe about that. . . I am
afraid it was not before my thought about myself
that my moral sense began to operate and my
hatred of Pethel set in. But I claim that I did see
myself as no more than a mere detail in his villainy.
Nor, in my just wrath for other sakes, was I without
charity even for him. I gave him due credit foi
risking his own life — for having doubtless risked it,
it and none other, again and again in the course of
his adventurous — and abstemious — life by field and
flood. I was even rather touched by memory of his
insistence last night on another glass of that water
which just might give him typhoid ; rather touched
by memory of his unsaying that he ' never ' touched
alcohol — he who, in point of fact, had to be always
gambling on something or other. I gave him due
credit, too, for his devotion to his daughter. But
his use of that devotion, his cold use of it to secure
for himself the utmost thrill of gambling, did seem
utterly abominable to me.
And it was even more for the mother than for the
daughter that I was incensed. That daughter did
not know him, did but innocently share his damnable
love of chances. But that wife had for years known
him at least as well as I knew him now. Here
again, I gave him credit for wishing, though he
didn't love her, to spare her what he could. That
he didn't love her I presumed from his indubitable
willingness not to stake her in this afternoon's
game. That he never had loved her — had taken
her, in his precocious youth, simply as a gigantic
chance against him — was likely enough. So much
the more credit to him for such consideration as he
showed her ; but little enough this was. He could
wish to save her from being a looker-on at his game ;
but he could, he couldn't not, go on playing.
Assuredly she was right in deeming him at once the
strongest and the weakest of men. * Rather a
nervous woman ' ! I remembered an engraving
that had hung in my room at Oxford — and in
scores of other rooms there : a presentment by
Sir Marcus (then Mr.) Stone of a very pretty young
person in a Gainsborough hat, seated beneath an
ancestral elm, looking as though she were about to
cry, and entitled ' A Gambler's Wife.' Mrs. Pethel
was not like that. Of her there were no engravings
for undergraduate hearts to melt at. But there was
one man, certainly, whose compassion was very much
at her service. How was he going to help her ?
I know not how many hair's-breadth escapes we
may have had while these thoughts passed through
my brain. I had closed my eyes. So preoccupied
was I that, but for the constant rush of air against
my face, I might, for aught I knew, have been
sitting ensconced in an arm-chair at home. After a
while, I was aware that this rush had abated ; I
opened my eyes to the old familiar streets of Rouen.
We were to have tea at the H6tel d'Angleterre.
What was to be my line of action ? Should I take
Pethel aside and say ' Swear to me, on your word
of honour as a gentleman, that you will never again
touch the driving-gear (or whatever you call it) of
a motor-car. Otherwise I shall expose you to the
world. Meanwhile, we shall return to Dieppe by
train ' ? He might flush — for I knew him capable
of flushing — as he asked me to explain. And after ?
He would laugh in my face. He would advise me
not to go motoring any more. He might even
warn me not to go back to Dieppe in one of those
dangerous railway-trains. He might even urge me
to wait until a nice Bath chair had been sent out
for me from England. . .
I heard a voice (mine, alas) saying brightly ' Well,
here we are ! ' I helped the ladies to descend. Tea
was ordered. Pethel refused that stimulant and
had a glass of water. I had a liqueur brandy. It
was evident to me that tea meant much to Mrs.
Pethel. She looked stronger after her second cup,
and younger after her third. Still, it was my duty
to help her, if I could. While I talked and laughed,
I did not forget that. But — what on earth was I
to do ? I am no hero. I hate to be ridiculous. I
am inveterately averse from any sort of fuss.
Besides, how was I to be sure that my own personal
dread of the return- journey hadn't something to do
with my intention of tackling Pethel ? I thought
it had. What this woman would dare daily
because she was a mother, could not I dare once ?
I reminded myself of Pethel's reputation for in-
variable luck. I reminded myself that he was an
extraordinarily skilful driver. To that skill and luck
I would pin my faith. . .
What I seem to myself, do you ask of me ?
But I answered your question a few lines back.
Enough that my faith was rewarded. We did
reach Dieppe safely. I still marvel that we did.
That evening, in the vestibule of the Casino,
Grierson came up to me : ' Seen Jimmy Pethel ?
He was asking for you. Wants to see you par-
ticularly. He's in the baccarat room, punting —
winning hand over fist, of course. Said he'd seldom
met a man he liked more than you. Great character,
what ? ' One is always glad to be liked, and I
plead guilty to a moment's gratification at the
announcement that Pethel liked me. But I did not
go and seek him in the baccarat room. A great
character assuredly he was ; but of a kind with
which (very imperfect though I am, and no censor)
I prefer not to associate.
Why he had particularly wanted to see me was
made clear in a note sent by him to my room early
next morning. He wondered if I could be induced
to join them in their little tour. He hoped I
wouldn't think it great cheek, his asking me. He
thought it might rather amuse me to come. It
would be a very great pleasure for his wife. He
hoped I wouldn't say No. Would I send a line by
bearer ? They would be starting at 3 o'clock. He
was mine sincerely.
It was not too late to tackle him, even now.
Should I go round to his hotel ? I hesitated and —
well, I told you at the outset that my last meeting
with him was on the morrow of my first. I forget
what I wrote to him, but am sure that the excuse
I made for myself was a good and graceful one, and
that I sent my kindest regards to Mrs. Pethel. She
had not (I am sure of that, too) authorised her
husband to say she would like me to come with
them. Else would not the thought of her have
haunted me so poignantly as for a long time it did.
I do not know whether she is still alive. No
mention is made of her in the obituary notice
which woke these memories in me. This notice I
will, however, transcribe, because (for all its crude-
ness of phraseology) it is rather interesting both as
an echo and as an amplification. Its title is —
4 Death of Wealthy Aviator.' Its text is—* Wide-
spread regret will be felt in Leicestershire at the
tragic death of Mr. James Pethel, who had long
resided there and was very popular as an all-round
sportsman. In recent years he had been much
interested in aviation, and had become one of the
most enthusiastic of amateur airmen. Yesterday
afternoon he fell down dead quite suddenly as he
was returning to his house, apparently in his usual
health and spirits, after descending from a short
flight which despite an extremely high wind he had
made on his new biplane and on which he was
accompanied by his married daughter and her
infant son. It is not expected that an inquest will
be necessary, as his physician, Dr. Saunders, has
certified death to be due to heart-disease, from
which, it appears, the deceased gentleman had been
suffering for some years. Dr. Saunders adds that
he had repeatedly warned deceased that any strain
on the nervous system might prove fatal.'
Thus — for I presume that his ailment had its
origin in his habits — James Pethel did not, despite
that merely pensive look of his, live his life with
impunity. And by reason of that life he died. As
for the manner of his death, enough that he did
die. Let not our hearts be vexed that his great
luck was with him to the end.
A. V. LAIDER
A. V. LAIDER
I UNPACKED my things and went down to
It was good to be here again in this little
old sleepy hostel by the sea. Hostel I say, though
it spelt itself without an s and even placed a
circumflex above the o. It made no other pre-
tension. It was very cosy indeed.
I had been here just a year before, in mid-
February, after an attack of influenza. And now I
had returned, after an attack of influenza. Nothing
was changed. It had been raining when I left, and
the waiter — there was but a single, a very old
waiter — had told me it was only a shower. That
waiter was still here, not a day older. And the
shower had not ceased.
Steadfastly it fell on to the sands, steadfastly into
the iron-grey sea. I stood looking out at it from
the windows of the hall, admiring it very much.
There seemed to be little else to do. What little
there was I did. I mastered the contents of a blue
hand-bill which, pinned to the wall just beneath the
framed engraving of Queen Victoria's Coronation,
gave token of a concert that was to be held — or
rather, was to have been held some weeks ago — in
the Town Hall, for the benefit of the Life-Boat
Fund. I looked at the barometer, tapped it, was
not the wiser. I glanced at a pamphlet about Our
Dying Industries (a theme on which Mr. Joseph
Chamberlain was at that time trying to alarm us).
I wandered to the letter-board.
These letter-boards always fascinate me. Usually
some two or three of the envelopes stuck into the
cross-garterings have a certain newness and fresh-
ness. They seem sure they will yet be claimed.
Why not ? Why shouldn't John Doe, Esq., or Mrs.
Richard Roe, turn up at any moment ? I do not
know. I can only say that nothing in the world
seems to me more unlikely. Thus it is that these
young bright envelopes touch my heart even more
than do their dusty and sallow seniors. Sour
resignation is less touching than impatience for
what will not be, than the eagerness that has to
wane and wither. Soured beyond measure these
old envelopes are. They are not nearly so nice as
they should be to the young ones. They lose no
chance of sneering and discouraging. Such dia-
logues as this are only too frequent :
A Very Young Envelope. Something in me
whispers that he will come to-day !
A Very Old Envelope. He? Well, that's
good ! Ha, ha, ha ! Why didn't he come last week,
when you came ? What reason have you for sup-
A. V. LAIDER
posing he'll ever come now ? It isn't as if he were
a frequenter of the place. He's never been here.
His name is utterly unknown here. You don't
suppose he's coming on the chance of finding you ?
A. V. Y. E. It may seem silly, but — something
in me whispers
A. V. O. E. Something in you ? One has only
to look at you to see there's nothing in you but a
note scribbled to him by a cousin. Look at me J
There are three sheets, closely written, in me. The
lady to whom I am addressed
A. V. Y. E. Yes, sir, yes ; you told me all about
A. V. O. E. And I shall do so to-day and to-
morrow and every day and all day long. That
young lady was a widow. She stayed here many
times. She was delicate, and the air suited her.
She was poor, and the tariff was just within her
means. She was lonely, and had need of love. I
have in me for her a passionate avowal and strictly
honourable proposal, written to her, after many
rough copies, by a gentleman who had made her
acquaintance under this very roof. He was rich, he
was charming, he was in the prime of life. He had
asked if he might write to her. She had flutteringly
granted his request. He posted me to her the day
after his return to London. I looked forward to
being torn open by her. I was very sure she would
wear me and my contents next to her bosom. She
was gone. She had left no address. She never
returned. . . This I tell you, and shall continue to
tell you, not because I want any of your callow
sympathy, — no, thank you ! — but that you may
judge how much less than slight are the chances
that you yourself
But my reader has overheard these dialogues as
often as I. He wants to know what was odd about
this particular letter-board before which I was
standing. At first glance I saw nothing odd about
it. But presently I distinguished a handwriting
that was vaguely familiar. It was mine. I stared,
I wondered. There is always a slight shock in
seeing an envelope of one's own after it has gone
through the post. It looks as if it had gone through
so much. But this was the first time I had ever
seen an envelope of mine eating its heart out in
bondage on a letter-board. This was outrageous.
This was hardly to be believed. Sheer kindness
had impelled me to write to ' A. V. Laider, Esq.',
and this was the result ! I hadn't minded receiving
no answer. Only now, indeed, did I remember that
I hadn't received one. In multitudinous London
the memory of A. V. Laider and his trouble had
soon passed from my mind. But — well, what a
lesson not to go out of one's way to write to casual
My envelope seemed not to recognise me as its
writer. Its gaze was the more piteous for being
blank. Even so had I once been gazed at by a dog
that I had lost and, after many days, found in the
A. V. LAIDER
Battersea Home. " I don't know who you are, but,
whoever you are, claim me, take me out of this ! *
That was my dog's appeal. This was the appeal of
I raised my hand to the letter-board, meaning to
effect a swift and lawless rescue, but paused at
sound of a footstep behind me. The old waiter had
come to tell me that my luncheon was ready. I
followed him out of the hall, not, however, without
a bright glance across my shoulder to reassure the
little captive that I should come back.
I had the sharp appetite of the convalescent, and
this the sea-air had whetted already to a finer edge.
In touch with a dozen oysters, and with stout, I
soon shed away the unreasoning anger I had felt
against A. V. Laider. I became merely sorry for
him that he had not received a letter which might
perhaps have comforted him. In touch with
cutlets, I felt how sorely he had needed comfort.
And anon, by the big bright fireside of that small
dark smoking-room where, a year ago, on the last
evening of my stay here, he and I had at length
spoken to each other, I reviewed in detail the
tragic experience he had told me ; and I fairly
revelled in reminiscent sympathy with him. . . .
A. V. Laider — I had looked him up in the visitors'
book on the night of his arrival. I myself had
arrived the day before, and had been rather sorry
there was no one else staying here. A convalescent
by the sea likes to have some one to observe, to
wonder about, at meal-time. I was glad when, on
my second evening, I found seated at the table
opposite to mine another guest. I was the gladder
because he was just the right kind of guest. He
was enigmatic. By this I mean that he did not
look soldierly nor financial nor artistic nor anything
definite at all . He offered a clean slate for speculation .
And thank heaven ! he evidently wasn't going to spoil
the fun by engaging me in conversation later on. A
decently unsociable man, anxious to be left alone.
The heartiness of his appetite, in contrast with
his extreme fragility of aspect and limpness of
demeanour, assured me that he, too, had just had
influenza. I liked him for that. Now and again
our eyes met and were instantly parted. We
managed, as a rule, to observe each other indirectly.
I was sure it was not merely because he had been
ill that he looked interesting. Nor did it seem to
me that a spiritual melancholy, though I imagined
him sad at the best of times, was his sole asset. I
conjectured that he was clever. I thought he might
also be imaginative. At first glance I had mis-
trusted him. A shock of white hair, combined with
a young face and dark eyebrows, does somehow
make a man look like a charlatan. But it is foolish
to be guided by an accident of colour. I had soon
rejected my first impression of my fellow-diner. I
found him very sympathetic.
Anywhere but in England it would be impossible
A. V. LAIDER
for two solitary men, howsoever much reduced by-
influenza, to spend five or six days in the same
hostel and not exchange a single word. That is one
of the charms of England. Had Laider and I
been born and bred in any other land we should
have become acquainted before the end of our first
evening in the small smoking-room, and have found
ourselves irrevocably committed to go on talking to
each other throughout the rest of our visit. We
might, it is true, have happened to like each other
more than any one we had ever met. This off-
chance may have occurred to us both. But it
counted for nothing as against the certain surrender
of quietude and liberty. We slightly bowed to each
other as we entered or left the dining-room or
smoking-room, and as we met on the widespread
sands or in the shop that had a small and faded
circulating library. That was all. Our mutual
aloofness was a positive bond between us.
Had he been much older than I, the responsibility
for our silence would of course have been his alone.
But he was not, I judged, more than five or six
years ahead of me, and thus I might without
impropriety have taken it on myself to perform
that hard and perilous feat which English people
call, with a shiver, 4 breaking the ice.' He had
reason, therefore, to be as grateful to me as I to
him. Each of us, not the less frankly because
silently, recognised his obligation to the other. And
when, on the last evening of my stay, the ice
actually was broken no ill-will rose between us :
neither of us was to blame.
It was a Sunday evening. I had been out for a
long last walk and had come in very late to dinner.
Laider left his table almost immediately after I sat
down to mine. When I entered the smoking-room
I found him reading a weekly review which I had
bought the day before. It was a crisis. He could
not silently offer, nor could I have silently accepted,
sixpence. It was a crisis. We faced it like men.
He made, by word of mouth, a graceful apology.
Verbally, not by signs, I besought him to go on
reading. But this, of course, was a vain counsel of
perfection. The social code forced us to talk now.
We obeyed it like men. To reassure him that our
position was not so desperate as it might seem, I
took the earliest opportunity to mention that I was
going away early next morning. In the tone of his
* Oh, are you ? ' he tried bravely to imply that he
was sorry, even now, to hear that. In a way,
perhaps, he really was sorry. We had got on so
well together, he and I. Nothing could efface the
memory of that. Nay, we seemed to be hitting it
off even now. Influenza was not our sole theme.
We passed from that to the aforesaid weekly
review, and to a correspondence that was raging
therein on Faith and Reason.
This correspondence had now reached its fourth
and penultimate stage — its Australian stage. It is
hard to see why these correspondences spring up ;
A. V. LAIDER
one only knows that thej^ do spring up, suddenly,
like street crowds. There comes, it would seem, a
moment when the whole English-speaking race is
unconsciously bursting to have its say about some
one thing — the split infinitive, or the habits of
migratory birds, or faith and reason, or what-not.
Whatever weekly review happens at such a moment
to contain a reference, however remote, to the
theme in question reaps the storm. Gusts of letters
blow in from all corners of the British Isles. These
are presently reinforced by Canada in full blast. A
few weeks later the Anglo-Indians weigh in. In due
course we have the help of our Australian cousins.
By that time, however, we of the Mother Country
have got our second wind, and so determined are
we to make the most of it that at last even the
Editor suddenly loses patience and says c This
correspondence must now cease. — Ed.' and wonders
why on earth he ever allowed anything so tedious
and idiotic to begin.
I pointed out to Laider one of the Australian
letters that had especially pleased me in the current
issue. It was from ' A Melbourne Man,' and was
of the abrupt kind which declares that • all your
correspondents have been groping in the dark ' and
then settles the whole matter in one short sharp
flash. The flash in this instance was ' Reason is
faith, faith reason — that is all we know on earth
and all we need to know.' The writer then inclosed
his card and was, etc., 4 A Melbourne Man.' I said
to Laider how very restful it was, after influenza,
to read anything that meant nothing whatsoever.
Laider was inclined to take the letter more seriously
than I, and to be mildly metaphysical. I said that
for me faith and reason were two separate things,
and (as I am no good at metaphysics, however mild)
I offered a definite example, to coax the talk on to
ground where I should be safer. * Palmistry, for
example,' I said. ' Deep down in my heart I
believe in palmistry.'
Laider turned in his chair. ' You believe in
palmistry ? '
I hesitated. 4 Yes, somehow I do. Why ? I
haven't the slightest notion. I can give myself all
sorts of reasons for laughing it to scorn. My
common sense utterly rejects it. Of course the
shape of the hand means something — is more or less
an index of character. But the idea that my past
and future are neatly mapped out on my palms '
I shrugged my shoulders.
4 You don't like that idea ? ' asked Laider in his
gentle, rather academic voice.
4 1 only say it's a grotesque idea.'
* Yet you do believe in it ? '
1 I've a grotesque belief in it, yes.'
1 Are you sure your reason for calling this idea
" grotesque " isn't merely that you dislike it ? '
4 Well,' I said, with the thrilling hope that he was
a companion in absurdity, 4 doesn't it seem grotesque
to you ?
A. V. LAIDER
4 It seems strange.'
4 You believe in it f '
4 Oh, absolutely.'
4 Hurrah ! '
He smiled at my pleasure, and I, at the risk of
re-entanglement in metaphysics, claimed him as
standing shoulder to shoulder with me against 4 A
Melbourne Man.' This claim he gently disputed.
4 You may think me very prosaic,' he said, 4 but I
can't believe without evidence.'
4 Well, I'm equally prosaic and equally at a dis-
advantage : I can't take my own belief as evidence,
and I've no other evidence to go on.'
He asked me if I had ever made a study of
palmistry. I said I had read one of Desbarolles'
books years ago, and one of Heron- Allen's. But,
he asked, had I tried to test them by the lines on
my own hands or on the hands of my friends ? I
confessed that my actual practice in palmistry had
been of a merely passive kind — the prompt exten-
sion of my palm to any one who would be so good
as to 4 read ' it and truckle for a few minutes to my
egoism. (I hoped Laider might do this.)
4 Then I almost wonder,' he said, with his sad
smile, 4 that you haven't lost your belief, after all
the nonsense you must have heard. There are so
many young girls who go in for palmistry. I am
sure all the five foolish virgins were 44 awfully keen
on it " and used to say 44 You can be led, but not
driven," and 44 You are likely to have a serious
illness between the ages of forty and forty-five,"
and " You are by nature rather lazy, but can be
very energetic by fits and starts." And most of the
professionals, I'm told, are as silly as the young girls.'
For the honour of the profession, I named three
practitioners whom I had found really good at
reading character. He asked whether any of them
had been right about past events. I confessed
that, as a matter of fact, all three of them had been
right in the main. This seemed to amuse him. He
asked whether any of them had predicted anything
which had since come true. I confessed that all
three had predicted that I should do several things
which I had since done rather unexpectedly. He
asked if I didn't accept this as at any rate a scrap
of evidence. I said I could only regard it as a
fluke — a rather remarkable fluke.
The superiority of his sad smile was beginning to
get on my nerves. I wanted him to see that he
was as absurd as I. ' Suppose,' I said, c suppose for
sake of argument that you and I are nothing but
helpless automata created to do just this and that,
and to have just that and this done to us. Suppose,
in fact, we haven't any free will whatsoever. Is it
likely or conceivable that the Power that fashioned
us would take the trouble to jot down in cipher on
our hands just what was in store for us ? '
Laider did not answer this question, he did but
annoyingly ask me another. * You believe in free
A. V. LAIDER
1 Yes, of course. I'll be hanged if I'm an au-
' And you believe in free will just as in palmistry
— without any reason ? '
1 Oh, no. Everything points to our having free
4 Everything ? What, for instance ? '
This rather cornered me. I dodged out, as
lightly as I could, by saying ' I suppose you would
say it was written in my hand that I should be a
believer in free will.'
4 Ah, I've no doubt it is.'
I held out my palms. But, to my great dis-
appointment, he looked quickly away from them.
He had ceased to smile. There was agitation in his
voice as he explained that he never looked at
people's hands now. 4 Never now — never again.'
He shook his head as though to beat off some
I was much embarrassed by my indiscretion. I
hastened to tide over the awkward moment by
saying that if / could read hands I wouldn't, for
fear of the awful things I might see there.
4 Awful things, yes,' he whispered, nodding at
4 Not,' I said in self-defence, 4 that there's any-
thing very awful, so far as I know, to be read in my
He turned his gaze from the fire to me. 4 You
aren't a murderer, for example ? '
4 Oh, no,' I replied, with a nervous laugh.
4 / am.'
This was a more than awkward, it was a painful,
moment for me ; and I am afraid I must have
started or winced, for he instantly begged my
pardon. 4 1 don't know,' he exclaimed, * why I
said it. I'm usually a very reticent man. But
sometimes — ' He pressed his brow. 4 What you
must think of me ! '
I begged him to dismiss the matter from his mind.
4 It's very good of you to say that ; but — I've
placed myself as well as you in a false position. I
ask you to believe that I'm not the sort of man
who is " wanted " or ever was " wanted " by the
police. I should be bowed out of any police-station
at which I gave myself up. I'm not a murderer in
any bald sense of the word. No.'
My face must have perceptibly brightened, for
* Ah,' he said, 4 don't imagine I'm not a murderer
at all. Morally, I am.' He looked at the clock. I
pointed out that the night was young. He assured
me that his story was not a long one. I assured
him that I hoped it was. He said I was very kind.
I denied this. He warned me that what he had to
tell might rather tend to stiffen my unwilling faith
in palmistry, and to shake my opposite and cherished
faith in free will. I said 4 Never mind.' He
stretched his hands pensively toward the fire. I
settled myself back in my chair.
4 My hands,' he said, staring at the backs of them,
A. V. LAIDER
* are the hands of a very weak man. I dare say
you know enough of palmistry to see that for
yourself. You notice the slightness of the thumbs
and of the two " little " fingers. They are the
hands of a weak and over-sensitive man — a man
without confidence, a man who would certainly
waver in an emergency. Rather Hamlet-ish hands,'
he mused. ' And I'm like Hamlet in other respects,
too : I'm no fool, and I've rather a noble disposition,
and I'm unlucky. But Hamlet was luckier than I
in one thing : he was a murderer by accident,
whereas the murders that I committed one day
fourteen years ago — for I must tell you it wasn't
one murder, but many murders that I committed —
were all of them due to the wretched inherent
weakness of my own wretched self.
4 1 was twenty-six — no, twenty-seven years old,
and rather a nondescript person, as I am now. I
was supposed to have been called to the Bar. In
fact, I believe I had been called to the Bar. I
hadn't listened to the call. I never intended to
practise, and I never did practise. I only wanted
an excuse in the eyes of the world for existing. I
suppose the nearest I have ever come to practising
is now at this moment : I am defending a murderer.
My father had left me well enough provided with
money. I was able to go my own desultory way,
riding my hobbies where I would. I had a good
stableful of hobbies. Palmistry was one of them.
I was rather ashamed of this one. It seemed to me
absurd, as it seems to you. Like you, though, I
believed in it. Unlike you, I had done more than
merely read a book or so about it. I had read
innumerable books about it. I had taken casts of
all my friends' hands. I had tested and tested
again the points at which Desbarolles dissented
from the gypsies, and — well, enough that I had gone
into it all rather thoroughly, and was as sound a
palmist as a man may be without giving his whole
life to palmistry.
* One of the first things I had seen in my own
hand, as soon as I had learned to read it, was that
at about the age of twenty-six I should have a
narrow escape from death — from a violent death.
There was a clean break in the life-line, and a square
joining it — the protective square, you know. The
markings were precisely the same in both hands. It
was to be the narrowest escape possible. And I
wasn't going to escape without injury, either.
That is what bothered me. There was a faint line
connecting the break in the life-line with a star on
the line of health. Against that star was another
square. I was to recover from the injury, whatever
it might be. Still, I didn't exactly look forward to
it. Soon after I had reached the age of twenty-five,
I began to feel uncomfortable. The thing might be
going to happen at any moment. In palmistry,
you know, it is impossible to pin an event down
hard and fast to one year. This particular event
was to be when I was about twenty-six ; it mightn't
A. V. LAIDER
be till I was twenty-seven ; it might be while I was
1 And I used to tell myself that it mightn't be at
all. My reason rebelled against the whole notion
of palmistry, just as yours does. I despised my
faith in the thing, just as you despise yours. I used
to try not to be so ridiculously careful as I was
whenever I crossed a street. I lived in London at
that time. Motor-cars had not yet come in, but —
what hours, all told, I must have spent standing on
curbs, very circumspect, very lamentable ! It was
a pity, I suppose, that I had no definite occupation
— something to take me out of myself. I was one
of the victims of private means. There came a
time when I drove in four-wheelers rather than in
hansoms, and was doubtful of four-wheelers. Oh,
I assure you, I was very lamentable indeed.
4 If a rail way- journey could be avoided, I avoided
it. My uncle had a place in Hampshire. I was
very fond of him and of his wife. Theirs was the
only house I ever went to stay in now. I was there
for a week in November, not long after my twenty-
seventh birthday. There were other people staying
there, and at the end of the week we all travelled
back to London together. There were six of us in
the carriage : Colonel Elbourn and his wife and
their daughter, a girl of seventeen ; and another
married couple, the Blakes. I had been at Win-
chester with Blake, but had hardly seen him since
that time. He was in the Indian Civil, and was
home on leave. He was sailing for India next
week. His wife was to remain in England for some
months, and then join him out there. They had
been married five years. She was now just twenty-
four years old. He told me that this was her age.
4 The Elbourns I had never met before. They
were charming people. We had all been very happy
together. The only trouble had been that on the
last night, at dinner, my uncle asked me if I still
went in for " the gypsy business," as he always
called it ; and of course the three ladies were
immensely excited, and implored me to " do " their
hands. I told them it was all nonsense, I said I
had forgotten all I once knew, I made various
excuses ; and the matter dropped. It was quite
true that I had given up reading hands. I avoided
anything that might remind me of what was in my
own hands. And so, next morning, it was a great
bore to me when, soon after the train started, Mrs.
Elbourn said it would be " too cruel " of me if I
refused to do their hands now. Her daughter and
Mrs. Blake also said it would be " brutal " ; and
they were all taking off their gloves, and — well, of
course I had to give in.
1 1 went to work methodically on Mrs. Elbourn's
hands, in the usual way, you know, first sketching
the character from the backs of them ; and there
was the usual hush, broken by the usual little noises
— grunts of assent from the husband, cooings of
recognition from the daughter. Presently I asked
A. V. LAIDER
to see the palms, and from them I filled in the
details of Mrs. Elbourn's character before going on
to the events in her life. But while I talked I was
calculating how old Mrs. Elbourn might be. In my
first glance at her palms I had seen that she could
not have been less than twenty-five when she
married. The daughter was seventeen. Suppose
the daughter had been born a year later — how old
would the mother be ? Forty-three, yes. Not less
than that, poor woman ! '
Laider looked at me. ' Why " poor woman,"
you wonder ? Well, in that first glance I had seen
other things than her marriage-line. I had seen a
very complete break in the lines of life and of fate.
I had seen violent death there. At what age ? Not
later, not possibly later, than forty- three. While I
talked to her about the things that had happened
in her girlhood, the back of my brain was hard at
work on those marks of catastrophe. I was horribly
wondering that she was still alive. It was impossible
that between her and that catastrophe there could
be more than a few short months. And all the
time I was talking ; and I suppose I acquitted
myself well, for I remember that when I ceased I
had a sort of ovation from the Elbourns.
1 It was a relief to turn to another pair of hands.
Mrs. Blake was an amusing young creature, and her
hands were very characteristic, and prettily odd in
form. I allowed myself to be rather whimsical
about her nature, and, having begun in that vein, I
went on in it — somehow — even after she had turned
her palms. In those palms were reduplicated the
signs I had seen in Mrs. Elbourn's. It was as
though they had been copied neatly out. The only
difference was in the placing of them ; and it was
this difference that was the most horrible point.
The fatal age in Mrs. Blake's hands was — not past,
no, for here she was. But she might have died
when she was twenty-one. Twenty-three seemed
to be the utmost span. She was twenty-four, you
4 I have said that I am a weak man. And you
will have good proof of that directly. Yet I showed
a certain amount of strength that day — yes, even
on that day which has humiliated and saddened the
rest of my life. Neither my face nor my voice
betrayed me when in the palms of Dorothy Elbourn
I was again confronted with those same signs. She
was all for knowing the future, poor child ! I
believe I told her all manner of things that were to
be. And she had no future — none, none in this
world — except
4 And then, while I talked, there came to me
suddenly a suspicion. I wondered it hadn't come
before. You guess what it was ? It made me feel
very cold and strange. I went on talking. But,
also, I went on — quite separately — thinking. The
suspicion wasn't a certainty. This mother and
daughter were always together. What was to befall
the one might anywhere — anywhere — befall the
A. V. LAIDER
other. But a like fate, in an equally near future,
was in store for that other lady. The coincidence
was curious, very. Here we all were together —
here, they and I — I who was narrowly to escape, so
soon now, what they, so soon now, were to suffer.
Oh, there was an inference to be drawn. Not a sure
inference, I told myself. And always I was talking,
talking, and the train was swinging and swaying
noisily along — to what ? It was a fast train. Our
carriage was near the engine. I was talking loudly.
Full well I had known what I should see in the
Colonel's hands. I told myself I had not known. I
told myself that even now the thing I dreaded was
not sure to be. Don't think I was dreading it for
myself. I wasn't so " lamentable " as all that —
now. It was only of them that I thought — only for
them. I hurried over the Colonel's character and
career ; I was perfunctory. It was Blake's hands
that I wanted. They were the hands that mattered.
If they had the marks Remember, Blake was
to start for India in the coming week, his wife was
to remain in England. They would be apart.
4 And the marks were there. And I did nothing
— nothing but hold forth on the subtleties of Blake's
character. There was a thing for me to do. I
wanted to do it. I wanted to spring to the window
and pull the communication-cord. Quite a simple
thing to do. Nothing easier than to stop a train.
You just give a sharp pull, and the train slows
down, comes to a standstill. And the Guard
appears at your window. You explain to the
4 Nothing easier than to tell him there is going to
be a collision. Nothing easier than to insist that
you and your friends and every other passenger in
the train must get out at once. . . There are easier
things than this ? Things that need less courage
than this ? Some of them I could have done, I
daresay. This thing I was going to do. Oh, I
was determined that I would do it — directly.
4 1 had said all I had to say about Blake's hands.
I had brought my entertainment to an end. I had
been thanked and complimented all round. I was
quite at liberty. I was going to do what I had to
do. I was determined, yes.
4 We were near the outskirts of London. The air
was grey, thickening ; and Dorothy Elbourn had
said, 44 Oh, this horrible old London ! I suppose
there's the same old fog ! " And presently I heard
her father saying something about 44 prevention "
and 44 a short act of Parliament " and 4t anthracite."
And I sat and listened and agreed and '
Laider closed his eyes. He passed his hand
slowly through the air.
4 1 had a racking headache. And when I said so,
I was told not to talk. I was in bed, and the
nurses were always telling me not to talk. I was in
a hospital. I knew that. But I didn't know why
I was there. One day I thought I should like to
A. V. LAIDER
know why, and so I asked. I was feeling much
better now. They told me, by degrees, that I had
had concussion of the brain. I had been brought
there unconscious, and had remained unconscious
for forty-eight hours. I had been in an accident —
a railway accident. This seemed to me odd. I had
arrived quite safely at my uncle's place, and I had
no memory of any journey since that. In cases of
concussion, you know, it's not uncommon for the
patient to forget all that happened just before the
accident ; there may be a blank of several hours.
So it was in my case. One day my uncle was
allowed to come and see me. And somehow,
suddenly, at sight of him, the blank was filled in.
I remembered, in a flash, everything. I was quite
calm, though. Or I made myself seem so, for I
wanted to know how the collision had happened.
My uncle told me that the engine-driver had failed
to see a signal because of the fog, and our train
had crashed into a goods-train. I didn't ask
him about the people who were with me. You
see, there was no need to ask. Very gently my
uncle began to tell me, but — I had begun to talk
strangely, I suppose. I remember the frightened
look of my uncle's face, and the nurse scolding him
4 After that, all a blur. It seems that I became
very ill indeed, wasn't expected to live. However,
There was a long silence. Laider did not look at
me, nor I at him. The fire was burning low, and
he watched it.
At length he spoke. 4 You despise me. Naturally.
I despise myself.'
4 No, I don't despise you ; but '
4 You blame me.' I did not meet his gaze. ' You
blame me,' he repeated.
4 And there, if I may say so, you are a little
unjust. It isn't my fault that I was born weak.'
4 But a man may conquer weakness.'
4 Yes, if he is endowed with the strength for that.'
His fatalism drew from me a gesture of disgust.
4 Do you really mean,' I asked, 4 that because you
didn't pull that cord, you couldn't have pulled it ? '
4 And it's written in your hands that you
couldn't ? '
He looked at the palms of his hands. 4 They are
the hands of a very weak man,' he said.
4 A man so weak that he cannot believe in the
possibility of free will for himself or for any one ? '
4 They are the hands of an intelligent man, who
can weigh evidence and see things as they are.'
4 But answer me : Was it fore-ordained that you
should not pull that cord ? '
4 It was fore-ordained.'
4 And was it actually marked in your hands that
you were not going to pull it ? '
4 Ah, well, you see, it is rather the things one is
A. V. LAIDER
going to do that are actually marked. The things
one isn't going to do, — the innumerable negative
things, — how could one expect them to be marked ? ■
4 But the consequences of what one leaves undone
may be positive ? '
4 Horribly positive,' he winced. ' My hand is the
hand of a man who has suffered a great deal in
4 And was it the hand of a man destined to suffer ?
4 Oh, yes. I thought I told you that.'
There was a pause.
4 Well,' I said, with awkward sympathy, 4 1
suppose all hands are the hands of people destined
4 Not of people destined to suffer so much as J
have suffered — as I still suffer.'
The insistence of his self-pity chilled me, and I
harked back to a question he had not straightly
answered. 4 Tell me : Was it marked in your hands
that you were not going to pull that cord ? '
Again he looked at his hands, and then, having
pressed them for a moment to his face, 4 It was
marked very clearly,' he answered, 4 in their hands.'
Two or three days after this colloquy there had
occurred to me in London an idea — an ingenious
and comfortable doubt. How was Laider to be
sure that his brain, recovering from concussion, had
remembered what happened in the course of that
railway-journey ? How was he to know that his
brain hadn't simply, in its abeyance, invented all this
for him ? It might be that he had never seen those
signs in those hands. Assuredly, here was a bright
loop-hole. I had forthwith written to Laider,
pointing it out.
This was the letter which now, at my second visit,
I had found miserably pent on the letter-board. I
remembered my promise to rescue it. I arose from
the retaining fireside, stretched my arms, yawned,
and went forth to fulfil my Christian purpose.
There was no one in the hall. The ' shower ' had
at length ceased. The sun had positively come
out, and the front door had been thrown open in
its honour. Everything along the sea-front was
beautifully gleaming, drying, shimmering. But I
was not to be diverted from my errand. I
went to the letter-board. And — my letter was
not there ! Resourceful and plucky little thing
— it had escaped ! I did hope it would not be
captured and brought back. Perhaps the alarm
had already been raised by the tolling of that great
bell which warns the inhabitants for miles around
that a letter has broken loose from the letter-board.
I had a vision of my envelope skimming wildly
along the coast-line, pursued by the old but active
waiter and a breathless pack of local worthies. I
saw it out-distancing them all, dodging past coast-
guards, doubling on its tracks, leaping breakwaters,
unluckily injuring itself, losing speed, and at last, in
a splendour of desperation, taking to the open sea.
A. V. LAIDER
But suddenly I had another idea. Perhaps Laider
had returned ?
He had. I espied afar on the sands a form that
was recognisably, by the listless droop of it, his. I
was glad and sorry — rather glad, because he com-
pleted the scene of last year ; and very sorry,
because this time we should be at each other's
mercy : no restful silence and liberty, for either of
us, this time. Perhaps he had been told I was here,
and had gone out to avoid me while he yet could.
Oh weak, weak ! Why palter ? I put on my hat
and coat, and marched out to meet him.
' Influenza, of course ? ' we asked simultaneously.
There is a limit to the time which one man may
spend in talking to another about his own influenza ;
and presently, as we paced the sands, I felt that
Laider had passed this limit. I wondered that he
didn't break off and thank me now for my letter.
He must have read it. He ought to have thanked
me for it at once. It was a very good letter, a
remarkable letter. But surely he wasn't waiting to
answer it by post ? His silence about it gave me
the absurd sense of having taken a liberty, confound
him ! He was evidently ill at ease while he talked.
But it wasn't for me to help him out of his difficulty,
whatever that might be. It was for him to remove
the strain imposed on myself.
Abruptly, after a long pause, he did now manage
to say, ' It was — very good of you to — to write me
that letter.' He told me he had only just got it,
and he drifted away into otiose explanations of this
fact. I thought he might at least say it was a
remarkable letter ; and you can imagine my
annoyance when he said, after another interval, ' I
was very much touched indeed.' I had wished to
be convincing, not touching. I can't bear to be
4 Don't you,' I asked, ' think it is quite possible
that your brain invented all those memories of what
— what happened before that accident ? '
He drew a sharp sigh. 4 You make me feel very
4 That's exactly what I tried to make you not
feel ! '
4 1 know, yes. That's why I feel so guilty.'
We had paused in our walk. He stood nervously
prodding the hard wet sand with his walking-stick.
4 In a way,' he said, * your theory was quite right.
But — it didn't go far enough. It's not only possible,
it's a fact, that I didn't see those signs in those
hands. I never examined those hands. They
weren't there. I wasn't there. I haven't an uncle
in Hampshire, even. I never had.'
I, too, prodded the sand. * Well,' I said at
length, 4 1 do feel rather a fool.'
4 I've no right even to beg your pardon, but '
4 Oh, I'm not vexed. Only — I rather wish you
hadn't told me this.'
4 I wish I hadn't had to. It was your kindness,
you see, that forced me. By trying to take an
A. V. LAIDER
imaginary load off my conscience, you laid a very
real one on it.'
' I'm sorry. But you, of your own free will, you
know, exposed your conscience to me last year. I
don't yet quite understand why you did that.'
4 No, of course not. I don't deserve that you
should. But I think you will. May I explain ?
I'm afraid I've talked a great deal already about
my influenza, and I shan't be able to keep it out of
my explanation. Well, my weakest point — I told
you this last year, but it happens to be perfectly
true that my weakest point — is my will. Influenza,
as you know, fastens unerringly on one's weakest
point. It doesn't attempt to undermine my imagi-
nation. That would be a forlorn hope. I have,
alas ! a very strong imagination. At ordinary
times my imagination allows itself to be governed
by my will. My will keeps it in check by constant
nagging. But when my will isn't strong enough
even to nag, then my imagination stampedes. I
become even as a little child. I tell myself the most
preposterous fables, and — the trouble is — I can't
help telling them to my friends. Until I've
thoroughly shaken off influenza, I'm not fit company
for any one. I perfectly realise this, and I have the
good sense to go right away till I'm quite well
again. I come here usually. It seems absurd, but
I must confess I was sorry last year when we fell
into conversation. I knew I should very soon be
letting myself go, or rather, very soon be swept
away. Perhaps I ought to have warned you ; but
— I'm a rather shy man. And then you mentioned
the subject of palmistry. You said you believed in
it. I wondered at that. I had once read Des-
barolles' book about it, but I am bound to say I
thought the whole thing very great nonsense
* Then,' I gasped, ' it isn't even true that you
believe in palmistry ? ■
4 Oh, no. But I wasn't able to tell you that.
You had begun by saying that you believed in
palmistry, and then you proceeded to scoff at it.
While you scoffed I saw myself as a man with a
terribly good reason for not scoffing ; and in a flash
I saw the terribly good reason ; I had the whole
story — at least I had the broad outlines of it — clear
' You hadn't ever thought of it before ? ' He
shook his head. My eyes beamed. ' The whole
thing was a sheer improvisation ? '
4 Yes,' said Laider, humbly, 4 1 am as bad as all
that. I don't say that all the details of the story
I told you that evening were filled in at the very
instant of its conception. I was filling them in
while we talked about palmistry in general, and
while I was waiting for the moment when the story
would come in most effectively. And I've no doubt
I added some extra touches in the course of the
actual telling. Don't imagine that I took the
slightest pleasure in deceiving you. It's only my
A. V. LAIDER
will, not my conscience, that is weakened after
influenza. I simply can't help telling what I've
made up, and telling it to the best of my ability.
But I'm thoroughly ashamed all the time.'
4 Not of your ability, surely ? '
' Yes, of that, too,' he said with his sad smile. ' I
always feel that I'm not doing justice to my idea.'
1 You are too stern a critic, believe me.'
1 It is very kind of you to say that. You are
very kind altogether. Had I known that you were
so essentially a man of the world — in the best sense
of that term — I shouldn't have so much dreaded
seeing you just now and having to confess to you.
But I'm not going to take advantage of your
urbanity and your easy-going ways. I hope that
some day we may meet somewhere when I haven't
had influenza and am a not wholly undesirable
acquaintance. As it is, I refuse to let you associate
with me. I am an older man than you, and so I
may without impertinence warn you against having
anything to do with me.'
I deprecated this advice, of course ; but, for a
man of weakened will, he showed great firmness.
4 You,' he said, ' in your heart of hearts don't want
to have to walk and talk continually with a person
who might at any moment try to bamboozle you
with some ridiculous tale. And I, for my part,
don't want to degrade myself by trying to bam-
boozle any one — especially one whom I have taught
to see through me. Let the two talks we have had
be as though they had not been. Let us bow to
each other, as last year, but let that be all. Let us
follow in all things the precedent of last year.'
With a smile that was almost gay he turned on
his heel, and moved away with a step that was
almost brisk. I was a little disconcerted. But I
was also more than a little glad. The restfulness of
silence, the charm of liberty — these things were not,
after all, forfeit. My heart thanked Laider for that ;
and throughout the week I loyally seconded him in
the system he had laid down for us. All was as it
had been last year. We did not smile to each
other, we merely bowed, when we entered or left
the dining-room or smoking-room, and when we
met on the widespread sands or in that shop which
had a small and faded, but circulating, library.
Once or twice in the course of the week it did
occur to me that perhaps Laider had told the
simple truth at our first interview and an ingenious
lie at our second. I frowned at this possibility.
The idea of any one wishing to be quit of me was
most distasteful. However, I was to find reassur-
ance. On the last evening of my stay, I suggested,
in the small smoking-room, that he and I should, as
sticklers for precedent, converse. We did so, very
pleasantly. And after a while I happened to say
that I had seen this afternoon a great number of
sea-gulls flying close to the shore.
1 Sea-gulls ? ' said Laider, turning in his chair.
' Yes. And I don't think I had ever realised how
A. V. LAIDER
extraordinarily beautiful they are when their wings
catch the light.'
* Beautiful ? ' Laider threw a quick glance at me
and away from me. ' You think them beautiful ? '
4 Well, perhaps they are, yes ; I suppose they are.
But — I don't like seeing them. They always
remind me of something — rather an awful thing —
that once happened to me.' ....
It was a very awful thing indeed.
I LIKE to remember that I was the first to call
him so, for, though he always deprecated the
nickname, in his heart he was pleased by it,
I know, and encouraged to go on.
Quite apart from its significance, he had reason
to welcome it. He had been unfortunate at the
font. His parents, at the time of his birth, lived in
Ladbroke Crescent, W. They must have been an
extraordinarily unimaginative couple, for they
could think of no better name for their child than
Ladbroke. This was all very well for him till he
went to school. But you can fancy the indignation
and delight of us boys at finding among us a new-
comer who, on his own confession, had been named
after a Crescent. I don't know how it is nowadays,
but thirty-five years ago, certainly, schoolboys re-
garded the possession of any Christian name as rather
unmanly. As we all had these encumbrances, we
had to wreak our scorn on any one who was cumbered
in a queer fashion. I myself, bearer of a Christian
name adjudged eccentric though brief, had had
much to put up with in my first term. Brown's
arrival, therefore, at the beginning of my second
term, was a good thing for me, and I am afraid I
was very prominent among his persecutors. Tra-
falgar Brown, Tottenham Court Brown, Bond Brown
— what names did we little brutes not cull for him
from the London Directory ? Except how miser-
able we made his life, I do not remember much
about him as he was at that time, and the only
important part of the little else that I do recall is
that already he showed a strong sense for literature.
For the majority of us Carthusians, literature was
bounded on the north by Whyte Melville, on the
south by Hawley Smart, on the east by the former,
and on the west by the latter. Little Brown used
to read Harrison Ainsworth, Wilkie Collins, and
other writers whom we, had we assayed them,
would have dismissed as 4 deep.' It has been said
by Mr. Arthur Symons that ' all art is a mode of
escape.' The art of letters did not, however, enable
Brown to escape so far from us as he would have
wished. In my third term he did not reappear
among us. His parents had in some sort atoned.
Unimaginative though they were, it seems they
could understand a tale of woe laid before them
circumstantially, and had engaged a private tutor
for their boy. Fifteen years elapsed before I saw
This was at the second night of some play. I was
dramatic critic for the Saturday Review, and, weary
of meeting the same lot of people over and over
4 SAVONAROLA ' BROWN
again at first nights, had recently sent a circular to
the managers asking that I might have seats for
second nights instead. I found that there existed
as distinct and invariable a lot of second-nighters
as of first-nighters. The second-nighters were less
4 showy ' ; but then, they came rather to see than
to be seen, and there was an air, that I liked, of
earnestness and hopefulness about them. I used to
write a great deal about the future of the British
drama, and they, for their part, used to think and
talk a great deal about it. People who care about
books and pictures find much to interest and please
them in the present. It is only the students of the
theatre who always fall back, or rather forward, on
the future. Though second-nighters do come to see,
they remain rather to hope and pray. I should
have known anywhere, by the visionary look in his
eyes, that Brown was a confirmed second-nighter.
What surprises me is that I knew he was Brown.
It is true that he had not grown much in those
fifteen years : his brow was still disproportionate to
his body, and he looked young to have become
4 confirmed ' in any habit. But it is also true that
not once in the past ten years, at any rate, had he
flitted through my mind and poised on my
I hope that I and those other boys had long ago
ceased from recurring to him in nightmares. Cordial
though the hand was that I offered him, and highly
civilised my whole demeanour, he seemed afraid
that at any moment I might begin to dance around
him, shooting out my lips at him and calling him
Seven-Sisters Brown or something of that kind. It
was only after constant meetings at second nights,
and innumerable entr'acte talks about the future of
the drama, that he began to trust me. In course of
time we formed the habit of walking home together
as far as Cumberland Place, at which point our
ways diverged. I gathered that he was still living
with his parents, but he did not tell me where, for
they had not, as I learned by reference to the Red
Book, moved from Ladbroke Crescent.
I found his company restful rather than inspiring.
His days were spent in clerkship at one of the
smaller Government Offices, his evenings — except
when there was a second night — in reading and
writing. He did not seem to know much, or to
wish to know more, about life. Books and plays,
first editions and second nights, were what he cared
for. On matters of religion and ethics he was as
little keen as he seemed to be on human character
in the raw ; so that (though I had already suspected
him of writing, or meaning to write, a play) my
eyebrows did rise when he told me he meant to
write a play about Savonarola.
He made me understand, however, that it was
rather the name than the man that had first
attracted him. He said that the name was in itself
a great incentive to blank-verse. He uttered it to
me slowly, in a voice so much deeper than his usual
' SAVONAROLA ' BROWN
voice, that I nearly laughed. For the actual bearer
of the name he had no hero-worship, and said it
was by a mere accident that he had chosen him as
central figure. He had thought of writing a tragedy
about Sardanapalus ; but the volume of the
" Encyclopaedia Britannica " in which he was going
to look up the main facts about Sardanapalus
happened to open at Savonarola. Hence a sudden
and complete peripety in the student's mind. He
told me he had read the Encyclopaedia's article
carefully, and had dipped into one or two of the
books there mentioned as authorities. He seemed
almost to wish he hadn't. ' Facts get in one's way
so,' he complained. 4 History is one thing, drama
is another. Aristotle said drama was more philo-
sophic than history because it showed us what men
would do, not just what they did. I think that's so
true, don't you ? I want to show what Savonarola
would have done if — ' He paused.
' If what ? '
1 Well, that's just the point. I haven't settled
that yet. When I've thought of a plot, I shall go
I said I supposed he intended his tragedy rather for
the study than for the stage. This seemed to hurt him.
I told him that what I meant was that managers
always shied at anything without ' a strong feminine
interest.' This seemed to worry him. I advised
him not to think about managers. He promised
that he would think only about Savonarola.
I know now that this promise was not exactly-
kept by him ; and he may have felt slightly awkward
when, some weeks later, he told me he had begun
the play. ' I've hit on an initial idea,' he said, 4 and
that's enough to start with. I gave up my notion
of inventing a plot in advance. I thought it would
be a mistake. I don't want puppets on wires. I
want Savonarola to work out his destiny in his own
way. Now that I have the initial idea, what I've
got to do is to make Savonarola live. I hope I shall
be able to do this. Once he's alive, I shan't interfere
with him. I shall just watch him. Won't it be
interesting ? He isn't alive yet. But there's plenty
of time. You see, he doesn't come on at the rise
of the curtain. A Friar and a Sacristan come on
and talk about him. By the time they've finished,
perhaps he'll be alive. But they won't have
finished yet. Not that they're going to say very
much. But I write slowly.'
I remember the mild thrill I had when, one
evening, he took me aside and said in an undertone,
' Savonarola has come on. Alive ! ' For me the
MS. hereinafter printed has an interest that for you
it cannot have, so a-bristle am I with memories of
the meetings I had with its author throughout the
nine years he took over it. He never saw me
without reporting progress, or lack of progress. Just
what was going on, or standing still, he did not
divulge. After the entry of Savonarola, he never
told me what characters were appearing. ' All sorts
of people appear,' he would say rather helplessly.
4 They insist. I can't prevent them.' I used to say
it must be great fun to be a creative artist ; but at
this he always shook his head : 4 I don't create.
They do. Savonarola especially, of course. I just
look on and record. I never know what's going to
happen next.' He had the advantage of me in
knowing at any rate what had happened last. But
whenever I pled for a glimpse he would again
shake his head :
4 The thing must be judged as a whole. Wait
till I've come to the end of the Fifth Act.'
So impatient did I become that, as the years went
by, I used rather to resent his presence at second
nights. I felt he ought to be at his desk. His, I
used to tell him, was the only drama whose future
ought to concern him now. And in point of fact he
had, I think, lost the true spirit of the second-
nighter, and came rather to be seen than to see. He
liked the knowledge that here and there in the
auditorium, when he entered it, some one would be
saying 4 Who is that ? ' and receiving the answer
4 Oh, don't you know? That's "Savonarola"
Brown.' This sort of thing, however, did not make
him cease to be the modest, unaffected fellow I had
known. He always listened to the advice I used to
offer him, though inwardly he must have chafed at
it. Myself a fidgety and uninspired person, unable
to begin a piece of writing before I know just how
it shall end, I had always been afraid that sooner or
later Brown would take some turning that led
nowhither — would lose himself and come to grief.
This fear crept into my gladness when, one evening
in the spring of 1909, he told me he had finished the
Fourth Act. Would he win out safely through the
He himself was looking rather glum ; and, as
we walked away from the theatre, I said to him, 4 1
suppose you feel rather like Thackeray when he'd
" killed the Colonel " : you've got to kill the
1 Not quite that,' he answered. * But of course
he'll die very soon now. A couple of years or so.
And it does seem rather sad. It's not merely that
he's so full of life. He has been becoming much
more human lately. At first I only respected him.
Now I have a real affection for him.'
This was an interesting glimpse at last, but I
turned from it to my besetting fear.
1 Haven't you,' I asked, ' any notion of how he
is to die ? '
Brown shook his head.
4 But in a tragedy,' I insisted, * the catas-
trophe must be led up to, step by step. My dear
Brown, the end of the hero must be logical and
4 1 don't see that,' he said, as we crossed Piccadilly
Circus. 4 In actual life it isn't so. What is there to
prevent a motor-omnibus from knocking me over
and killing me at this moment ? '
At that moment, by what has always seemed
to me the strangest of coincidences, and just the
sort of thing that playwrights ought to avoid, a
motor-omnibus knocked Brown over and killed
He had, as I afterwards learned, made a will
in which he appointed me his literary executor.
Thus passed into my hands the unfinished play
by whose name he had become known to so many
I hate to say that I was disappointed in it, but I
had better confess quite frankly that, on the whole,
I was. Had Brown written it quickly and read it
to me soon after our first talk about it, it might in
some ways have exceeded my hopes. But he had
become for me, by reason of that quiet and unhasting
devotion to his work while the years came and went,
a sort of hero ; and the very mystery involving just
what he was about had addicted me to those ideas
of magnificence which the unknown is said always
Even so, however, I am not blind to the great
merits of the play as it stands. It is well that the
writer of poetic drama should be a dramatist and a
poet. Here is a play that abounds in striking
situations, and I have searched it vainly for one
line that does not scan. What I nowhere feel is
that I have not elsewhere been thrilled or lulled by
the same kind of thing. I do not go so far as to say
that Brown inherited his parents' deplorable lack of
imagination. But I do wish he had been less
sensitive than he was to impressions, or else had
seen and read fewer poetic dramas ancient and
modern. Remembering that visionary look in his
eyes, remembering that he was as displeased as I
by the work of all living playwrights, and as dis-
satisfied with the great efforts of the Elizabethans,
I wonder that he was not more immune from in-
Also, I cannot but wish still that he had faltered
in his decision to make no scenario. There is much
to be said for the theory that a dramatist should
first vitalise his characters and then leave them un-
fettered ; but I do feel that Brown's misused the
confidence he reposed in them. The labour of so
many years has somewhat the air of being a mere
improvisation. Savonarola himself, after the First
Act or so, strikes me as utterly inconsistent. It
may be that he is just complex, like Hamlet. He
does in the Fourth Act show traces of that Prince.
I suppose this is why he struck Brown as having
become ' more human.' To me he seems merely a
But enough of these reservations. In my anxiety
for poor Brown's sake that you should not be dis-
appointed, perhaps I have been carrying tactfulness
too far and prejudicing you against that for which
I specially want your favour. Here, without more
Scene : A Room in the Monastery of San Marco,
Time : 1490, a.d. A summer morning.
Enter the Sacristan and a Friar.
Savonarola looks more grim to-day
Than ever. Should I speak my mind, I'd say
That he was fashioning some new great scourge
To flay the backs of men.
'Tis even so.
Brother Filippo saw him stand last night
In solitary vigil till the dawn
Lept o'er the Arno, and his face was such
As men may wear in Purgatory — nay,
E'en in the inmost core of Hell's own fires.
I often wonder if some woman's face,
Seen at some rout in his old worldling days,
Haunts him e'en now, e'en here, and urges him
To fierier fury 'gainst the Florentines.
Savonarola love-sick ! Ha, ha, ha !
Love-sick ? He, love-sick ? Tis a goodly jest !
The confirm'd misogyn a ladies' man !
Thou must have eaten of some strange red herb
That takes the reason captive. I will swear
Savonarola never yet hath seen
A woman but he spurn'd her. Hist ! He comes.
[Enter Savonarola, rapt in thought.]
Give thee good morrow, Brother.
A multitude of morrows equal-good
Till thou, by Heaven's grace, hast wrought the work
Nearest thine heart.
I thank thee, Brother, yet
I thank thee not, for that my thankfulness
(An such there be) pives thanks to Heaven alone.
Fri. [To Sacr.]
'Tis a right answer he hath given thee.
Had Sav'narola spoken less than thus,
Methinks me, the less Sav'narola he.
As when the snow lies on yon Apennines,
White as the hem of Mary Mother's robe,
And insusceptible to the sun's rays,
Being harder to the touch than temper'd steel,
E'en so this great gaunt monk white-visaged
Upstands to Heaven and to Heav'n devotes
The scarped thoughts that crown the upper slopes
Of his abrupt and austeve nature.
[Enter Lucrezia Borgia, St. Francis of Assisi,
and Leonardo da Vinci. Luc. is thickly veiled.]
This is the place.
Luc. [Pointing at Sav.]
And this the man ! [Aside.] And I —
By the hot blood that courses i' my veins
I swear it ineluctably — the woman !
Who is this wanton ?
[Luc. throws back her hood, revealing her face.
Sav. starts back, gazing at her.]
Hush, Sir ! 'Tis my little sister
The poisoner, right well-belov'd by all
Whom she as yet hath spared. Hither she came
Mounted upon another little sister of mine —
A mare, caparison'd in goodly wise.
She — I refer now to Lucrezia —
Desireth to have word of thee anent
Some matter that befrets her.
Sav. [To Luc]
Hence ! Begone !
Savonarola will not tempted be
By face of woman e'en tho' 't be, tho' 'tis,
Surpassing fair. All hope abandon therefore.
I charge thee : Vade retro, Satanas.
Sirrah, thou speakst in haste, as is the way
Of monkish men. The beauty of Lucrezia
Commends, not discommends, her to the eyes
Of keener thinkers than I take thee for.
I am an artist and an engineer,
Giv'n o'er to subtile dreams of what shall be
On this our planet. I foresee a day
When men shall skim the earth i' certain chairs
Not drawn by horses but sped on by oil
Or other matter, and shall thread the sky
It may be as thou sayest, friend,
Or may be not. [To Sav.] As touching this our errand,
I crave of thee, Sir Monk, an audience
Lo ! Here Alighieri comes.
I had methought me he was still at Parma.
St. Fran. [To Dan.]
How fares my little sister Beatrice ?
She died, alack, last sennight.
Did she so ?
If the condolences of men avail
Thee aught, take mine.
They are of no avail.
Sav. [To Luc]
I do refuse thee audience.
Didst thou not say so promptly when I ask'd it ?
Full well thou knowst that I was interrupted
By Alighieri's entry.
[Noise without. Enter Guelfs and Ghibellines
What is this ?
I did not think that in this cloister'd spot
There would be so much doing. I had look'd
To find Savonarola all alone
And tempt him in his uneventful cell.
Instead o' which — Spurn'd am I ? I am I.
There was a time, Sir, look to 't ! O damnation !
What is 't ? Anon then ! These my toys, my
That in the cradle — aye, 't my mother's breast —
I puled and lisped at, — 'Tis impossible,
Tho', faith, 'tis not so, forasmuch as 'tis.
And I a daughter of the Borgias ! —
Or so they told me. Liars ! Flatterers !
Currying lick-spoons ! Where's the Hell of 't then ?
'Tis time that I were going. Farewell, Monk,
But I'll avenge me ere the sun has sunk.
[Exeunt Luc, St. Fran., and Leonardo, fol-
lowed by Dan. Sav., having watched Luc. out of
sight, sinks to his knees, sobbing. Fri. and Sacr.
watch him in amazement. Guelfs and Ghibellines
continue fighting as the Curtain falls.]
Time : Afternoon of same day.
Scene : Lucrezia's Laboratory. Retorts, test-tubes,
etc. On small Renaissance table, up c, if a great
poison-bowl, the contents of which are being stirred by
the First Apprentice. The Second Apprentice
stands by, watching him.
For whom is the brew destin'd ?
I know not.
Lady Lucrezia did but lay on me
Injunctions as regards the making of 't,
The which I have obey'd. It is compounded
Of a malignant and a deadly weed
Found not save in the Gulf of Spezia,
And one small phial of 't, I am advis'd,
Were more than 'nough to slay a regiment
Of Messer Malatesta's condottieri
In all their armour.
I can well believe it.
Mark how the purple bubbles froth upon
The evil surface of its nether slime !
Luc. [To First App.]
Is 't done, Sir Sluggard ?
Madam, to a turn.
Had it not been so, I with mine own hand
WouJd have outpour'd it down thy gullet, knave.
See, here's a ring of cunningly-wrought gold
That I, on a dark night, did purchase from
A goldsmith on the Ponte Vecchio.
Small was his shop, and hoar of visage he.
I did bemark that from the ceiling's beams
Spiders had spun their webs for many a year,
The which hung erst like swathes of gossamer
Seen in the shadows of a fairy glade,
But now most woefully were weighted o'er
With gather'd dust. Look well now at the ring !
Touch'd here, behold, it opes a cavity
Capacious of three drops of yon fell stuff.
Dost heed ? Whoso then puts it on his finger
Dies, and his soul is from his body rapt
To Hell or Heaven as the case may be.
Take thou this toy and pour the three drops in.
[Hands ring to First App. and comes down c]
So, Sav'narola, thou shalt learn that I
Utter no threats but I do make them good.
Ere this day's sun hath wester'd from the view
Thou art to preach from out the Loggia
Dei Lanzi to the cits in the Piazza.
I, thy Lucrezia, will be upon the steps
To offer thee with phrases seeming-fair
That which shall seal thine eloquence for ever.
O mighty lips that held the world in spell
But would not meet these little lips of mine
In the sweet way that lovers use — O thin,
Cold, tight-drawn, bloodless lips, which natheless I
Deem of all lips the most magnifical
In this our city
[Enter the Borgias' Fool.]
Well, Fool, what's thy latest ?
Aristotle's or Zeno's, Lady — 'tis neither latest nor
last. For, marry, if the cobbler stuck to his last,
then were his latest his last in rebus ambulantibus.
Argal, I stick at nothing but cobble-stones, which,
by the same token, are stuck to the road by men's
How many crows may nest in a grocer's jerkin ?
A full dozen at cock-crow, and something less under
the dog-star, by reason of the dew, which lies
heavy on men taken by the scurvy.
Luc. [To First App.]
Methinks the Fool is a fool.
And therefore, by auricular deduction, am I own
twin to the Lady Lucrezia !
When pears hang green on the garden wall
With a nid, and a nod, and a niddy-niddy-o,
Then prank you, lads and lasses all,
With a yea and a nay and a niddy-o.
But when the thrush flies out o' the frost
With a nid, [etc.]
'Tis time for loons to count the cost,
With a yea [etc.]
[Enter the Porter.]
my dear Mistress, there is one below
Demanding to have instant word of thee.
1 told him that your Ladyship was not
At home. Vain perjury ! He would not take
Nay for an answer.
Ah ? What manner of man
A personage the like of whom
Is wholly unfamiliar to my gaze.
Cowl'd is he, but I saw his great eyes glare
From their deep sockets in such wise as leopards
Glare from their caverns, crouching ere they spring
On their reluctant prey.
And what name gave he ?
Porter [After a pause.]
Savon- ? [Porter nods.] Show him up.
If he be right astronomically, Mistress, then is he
the greater dunce in respect of true learning, the
which goes by the globe. Argal, 'twere better he
widened his wind-pipe.
Fly home, sweet self,
Nothing's for weeping,
Hemp was not made
For lovers' keeping,
Cheerly, cheerly, fly away.
Hew no more wood
While ash is glowing,
The longest grass
Is lovers' mowing,
[Re-enter Porter, followed by Sav. Exeunt
Porter, Fool, and First and Second Apps.]
I am no more a monk, I am a man
O' the world.
[Throws off cowl and frock, and stands forth in
the costume of a Renaissance nobleman. Lu-
crezia looks him up and down.]
Thou cutst a sorry figure.
Is neither here nor there. I love you, Madam.
And this, methinks, is neither there nor here,
For that my love of thee hath vanished,
Seeing thee thus beprankt. Go pad thy calves !
Thus mightst thou, just conceivably, with luck,
Capture the fancy of some serving-wench.
And this is all thou hast to say to me ?
I am dismiss'd ?
[Resumes frock and ccwl.]
Savonarola is himself once more.
And all my love for him returns to mc
A thousandfold !
Too late ! My pride of manhood
Is wounded irremediably. I'll
To the Piazza, where my flock awaits me.
Thus do we see that men make great mistakes
But may amend them when the conscience wakes.
I'm half avenged now, but only half :
'Tis with the ring I'll have the final laugh !
Tho' love be sweet, revenge is sweeter far.
To the Piazza ! Ha, ha, ha, ha, har !
[Seizes ring, and exit. Through open door are
heard, as the Curtain falls, sounds of a terrific
hubbub in the Piazza.]
Scene : The Piazza.
Time : A few minutes anterior to close of preceding
The Piazza is filled from end to end with a vast
seething crowd that is drawn entirely from the lower
orders. There is a sprinkling of wild-eyed and
dishevelled women in it. The men are lantern-jawed,
with several days' growth of beard. Most of them
carry rude weapons — staves, bill-hooks, crow-bars, and
the like — and are in as excited a condition as the
women. Some of them are bare-headed, others affect
a kind of Phrygian cap. Cobblers predominate.
Enter Lorenzo de Medici and Cosimo de Medici.
They wear cloaks of scarlet brocade, and, to avoid
notice, hold masks to their faces.
What purpose doth the foul and greasy plebs
Ensue to-day here ?
I nor know nor care.
How thrall'd thou art to the philosophy
Of Epicurus ! Naught that's human I
Deem alien from myself. [To a Cobbler.] Make
answer, fellow !
What empty hope hath drawn thee by. a thread
Forth from the o&scene hovel where thou starvest ?
No empty hope, your Honour, but the full
Assurance that to-day, as yesterday,
Savonarola will let loose his thunder
Against the vices of the idle rich
And from the brimming cornucopia
Of his immense vocabulary pour
Scorn on the lamentable heresies
Of the New Learning and on all the art
Later than Giotto.
Mark how absolute
The knave is !
Then are parrots rational
When they regurgitate the thing they hear !
This fool is but an unit of the crowd,
And crowds are senseless as the vasty deep
That sinks or surges as the moon dictates.
I know these crowds, and know that any man
That hath a glib tongue and a rolling eye
Can as he willeth with them.
[Removes his mask and mounts steps of Loggia.]
[Prolonged yells and groans from the crowd.]
Yes, I am he, I am that same Lorenzo
Whom you have nicknamed the Magnificent.
[Further terrific yells, shakings of fists, brandish-
ings of bill-hooks, insistent cries of i Death to
Lorenzo!' ' Down with the Magnificent!' Cob-
blers on fringe of crowd, down c, exhibit especially
all the symptoms of epilepsy, whooping-cough,
and other ailments.]
You love not me.
[The crowd makes an ugly rush. Lor. appears
likely to be dragged down and torn limb from limb,
but raises one hand in nick of time, and continues :]
Yet I deserve your love.
[The yells are now variegated with dubious
murmurs. A cobbler down c. thrusts his face
feverishly in the face of another and repeats, in a
hoarse interrogative whisper, * Deserves our love ? ']
Not for the sundry boons I have bestow'd
And benefactions I have lavished
Upon Firenze, City of the Flowers,
But for the love that in this rugged breast
I bear you.
[The yells have now died away, and there is a
sharp fall in dubious murmurs. The cobbler
down c. says, in an ear-piercing whisper, l The
love he bears us,' drops his lower jaw, nods his
head repeatedly, and awaits in an intolerable
state of suspense the orator's next words.]
I am not a blameless man,
[Some dubious murmurs.]
Yet for that I have lov'd you passing much,
Shall some things be forgiven me.
[Noises of cordial assent.]
In this our city, known unto you all,
A man more virtuous than I am, and
A thousand times more intellectual ;
Yet envy not I him, for — shall I name him ? —
He loves not you. His name ? I will not cut
Your hearts by speaking it. Here let it stay
On tip o' tongue.
Then steel you to the shock ! —
[For a moment or so the crowd reels silently
under the shock. Cobbler down c. is the first to
recover himself and cry ' Death to Savonarola ! *
The cry instantly becomes general. Lor. holds
up his hand and gradually imposes silence.]
His twin bug-bears are
Yourselves and that New Learning which I hold
Less dear than only you.
[Profound sensation. Everybody whispers ' Than
only you ' to everybody else. A woman near steps
of Loggia attempts to kiss hem o/Lor.'s garment.]
Would you but con
With me the old philosophers of Hellas,
Her fervent bards and calm historians,
You would arise and say ' We will not hear
Another word against them ! '
[The crowd already says this, repeatedly, with
Take the Dialogues
Of Plato, for example. You will find
A spirit far more truly Christian
In them than in the ravings of the sour-souPd
[Prolonged cries of ' Death to the Sour-Souled
Savonarola ! ' Several cobblers detach themselves
from the crowd and rush away to read the Platonic
Dialogues. Enter Savonarola. The crowd, as he
makes his way through it, gives up all further control
of its feelings, and makes a noise for which even the
best zoologists might not find a good comparison.
The staves and bill-hooks wave like twigs in a storm.
One would say that Sav. must have died a thousand
deaths already. He is, however, unharmed and un-
ruffled as he reaches the upper step of the Loggia.
Lor. meanwhile has rejoined Cos. in the Piazza.\
Pax vobiscum, brothers !
[This does but exacerbate the crowd's frenzy.]
Voice of a Cobbler
Hear his false lips cry Peace when there is no
Are not you ashamed, O Florentines,
[Renewed yells, but also some symptoms of manly
That hearken'd to Lorenzo and now reel
Inebriate with the exuberance
Of his verbosity ?
[The crowd makes an obvious effort to pull itself
A man can fool
Some of the people all the time, and can
Fool all the people sometimes, but he cannot
Fool all the people all the time.
[Loud cheers. Several cobblers clap one another
on the back. Cries of 4 Death to Lorenzo ! ' The
meeting is now well in hand.]
I must adopt a somewhat novel course
In dealing with the awful wickedness
At present noticeable in this city.
I do so with reluctance. Hitherto
I have avoided personalities.
But now my sense of duty forces me
To a departure from my custom of
Naming no names. One name I must and shall
[All eyes are turned on Lor., who smiles uncom-
No, I do not mean Lorenzo. He
Is 'neath contempt.
[Loud and prolonged laughter, accompanied with
hideous grimaces at Lor. Exeunt Lor. and Cos.]
I name a woman's name,
[The women in the crowd eye one another sus-
A name known to you all — four-syllabled,
Beginning with an L.
[Pause. Enter hurriedly Luc, carrying the ring.
She stands, unobserved by any one, on outskirt of
crowd. Sav. utters the name :]
Luc. [With equal intensity.]
[Sav. starts violently and stares in direction of
Yes, I come, I come !
[Forces her way to steps of Loggia. The crowd is
much bewildered, and the cries of l Death to
Lucrezia Borgia ! ' are few and sporadic]
Why didst thou call me ?
[Sav. looks somewhat embarrassed.]
What is thy distress ?
I see it all ! The sanguinary mob
Clusters to rend thee ! As the antler'd stag,
With fine eyes glazed from the too-long chase,
Turns to defy the foam-fleck'd pack, and thinks,
In his last moment, of some graceful hind
Seen once afar upon a mountain-top,
E'en so, Savonarola, didst thou think,
In thy most dire extremity, of me.
And here I am ! Courage ! The horrid hounds
Droop tail at sight of me and fawn away
[The crowd does indeed seem to have fallen
completely under the sway of Luc's magnetism,
and is evidently convinced that it had been about
to make an end of the monk.]
Take thou, and wear henceforth,
As a sure talisman 'gainst future perils,
This little, little ring.
[Sav. makes awkward gesture of refusal. Angry
murmurs from the crowd. Cries of ' Take thou
the ring ! ' ' Churl ! ' ' Put it on ! ' etc.
Enter the Borgias' Fool and stands unnoticed
on fringe of crowd.]
I hoped you 'Id like it —
Neat but not gaudy. Is my taste at fault ?
I'd so look'd forward to — [Sob.] No, I'm not crying,
But just a little hurt.
[Hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Also swayings
and snarlings indicative that Sav.'s life is again
not worth a momenVs purchase. Sav. makes
awkward gesture of acceptance, but just as he is
about to put ring on finger, the Fool touches his
lute and sings : — ]
Wear not the ring,
It hath an unkind sting,
Ding, dong, ding.
Bide a minute,
There's poison in it,
Poison in it,
Ding-a-dong, dong, ding.
The fellow lies.
[The crowd is torn with conflicting opinions.
Mingled cries of ' Wear not the ring I ' ' The
fellow lies ! ! c Bide a minute ! ' ' Death to the
Fool ! ' * Silence for the Fool ! ' ' Ding-a-dong,
dong, ding ! ' etc.]
Wear not the ring,
For Death's a robber-king,
There's no trinket
Is what you think it,
What you think it,
[Sav. throws ring in Luc's face. Enter Pope
Julius II, with Papal army.]
Arrest that man and woman !
[Re-enter Guelfs and Ghibellines fighting. Sav.
and Luc. are arrested by Papal officers. Enter
Michael Angelo. Andrea del Sarto appears
for a moment at a window. Pippa passes.
Brothers of the Misericordia go by, singing a
Requiem for Francesca da Rimini. Enter Boc-
caccio, Benvenuto Cellini, and many others,
making remarks highly characteristic of them-
selves but scarcely audible through the terrific
thunderstorm which now bursts over Florence and
is at its loudest and darkest crisis as the Curtain
Time : Three hours later.
Scene : A Dungeon on the ground-floor of the
The stage is bisected from top to bottom by a wall, on
one side of which is seen the interior of Lucrezia's
cell, on the other that of Savonarola's.
Neither he nor she knows that the other is in the
next cell. The audience, however, knows this.
Each cell (because of the width and height of the
proscenium) is of more than the average Florentine
size, but is bare even to the point of severity, its sole
amenities being some straw, a hunk of bread, and a
stone pitcher. The door of each is facing the audience.
Lucrezia wears long and clanking chains on her
wrists, as does also Savonarola. Imprisonment has
left its mark on both of them. Savonarola's hair
has turned white. His whole aspect is that of a very
old, old man. Lucrezia looks no older than before,
but Jias gone mad.
Alas, how long ago this morning seems
This evening ! A thousand thousand aeons
Are scarce the measure of the gulf betwixt
My then and now. Methinks I must have been
Here since the dim creation of the world
And never in that interval have seen
The tremulous hawthorn burgeon in the brake,
Nor heard the hum o' bees, nor woven chains
Of buttercups on Mount Fiesole
What time the sap lept in the cypresses,
Imbuing with the friskfulness of Spring
Those melancholy trees. I do forget
The aspect of the sun. Yet I was born
A freeman, and the Saints of Heaven smiled
Down on my crib. What would my sire have said,
And what my dam, had anybody told them
The time would come when I should occupy
A felon's cell ? O the disgrace of it ! —
The scandal, the incredible come-down !
It masters me. I see i' my mind's eye
The public prints — c Sharp Sentence on a Monk.'
What then ? I thought I was of sterner stuff
Than is affrighted by what people think.
Yet thought I so because 'twas thought of me,
And so 'twas thought of me because I had
A hawk-like profile and a baleful eye.
Lo ! my soul's chin recedes, soft to the touch
As half-churn 'd butter. Seeming hawk is dove,
And dove's a gaol-bird now. Fie out upon 't !
How comes it ? I am Empress Dowager
Of China — yet was never crown'd. This must
Be seen to.
[Quickly gathers some straw and weaves a crown,
which she puts on.]
O, what a degringolade !
The great career I had mapp'd out for me —
Nipp'd i' the bud. What life, when I come out,
Awaits me ? Why, the very Novices
And callow Postulants will draw aside
As I pass by, and say ' That man hath done
Time ! ' And yet shall I wince ? The worst of Time
Is not in having done it, but in doing 't.
Ha, ha, ha, ha ! Eleven billion pig-tails
Do tremble at my nod imperial, —
The which is as it should be.
I have heard
That gaolers oft are willing to carouse
With them they watch o'er, and do sink at last
Into a drunken sleep, and then's the time
To snatch the keys and make a bid for freedom.
Gaoler ! Ho, Gaoler !
[Sounds of lock being turned and bolts withdrawn.
Enter the Borgias' Fool, in plain clothes, carrying
bunch of keys.]
I have seen thy face
I saved thy life this afternoon, Sir.
Thou art the Borgias' Fool ?
Say rather, was.
Unfortunately I have been discharg'd
For my betrayal of Lucrezia,
So that I have to speak like other men —
Decasyllabically, and with sense.
An hour ago the gaoler of this dungeon
Died of an apoplexy. Hearing which,
I ask'd for and obtain'd his billet.
A stoup o' liquor for thyself and me.
Freedom ! there's nothing that thy votaries
Grudge in the cause of thee. That decent man
Is doom'd by me to lose his place again
To-morrow morning when he wakes from out
His hoggish slumber. Yet I care not.
[Re-enter Gaoler with a leathern bottle and two
This is the stuff to warm our vitals, this
The panacea for all mortal ills
And sure elixir of eternal youth.
Drink, bonniman !
[Gaoler drains a glass and shows signs of
instant intoxication. Sav. claps him on shoulder
and replenishes glass. Gaoler drinks again,
lies down on floor, and snores. Sav. snatches the
bunch of keys, laughs long but silently, and
creeps out on tip-toe, leaving door ajar.
Luc. meanwhile has lain down on the straw in
her cell, and fallen asleep.
Noise of bolts being shot back, jangling of keys,
grating of lock, and the door of Luc's cell flies
open. Sav. takes two steps across the threshold,
his arms outstretched and his upturned face
transfigured with a great joy.]
How sweet the open air
Leaps to my nostrils ! O the good brown earth
That yields once more to my elastic tread
And laves these feet with its remember'd dew !
[Takes a few more steps, still looking upwards.]
Free ! — I am free ! O naked arc of heaven,
Enspangled with innumerable — no,
Stars are not there. Yet neither are there clouds !
The thing looks like a ceiling ! [Gazes downward.] And
Looks like a floor. [Gazes around.] And that white
Looks curiously like Lucrezia.
[Luc. awakes at sound of her name, and sits up
There must be some mistake.
Luc. [Rises to her feet.]
There is indeed !
A pretty sort of prison I have come to,
In which a self-respecting lady's cell
Is treated as a lounge !
I had no notion
You were in here. I thought I was out there.
I will explain — but first I'll make amends.
Here are the keys by which your durance ends.
The gate is somewhere in this corridor,
And so good-bye to this interior !
[Exeunt Sav. and Luc. Noise, a moment later,
of a key grating in a lock, then of gate creaking on
its hinges ; triumphant laughs of fugitives ; loud
slamming of gate behind them.
In Sav.'s cell the Gaoler starts in his sleep,
turns his face to the wall, and snores more than
ever deeply. Through open door comes a cloaked
Sleep on, Savonarola, and awake
Not in this dungeon but in ruby Hell !
[Stabs Gaoler, whose snores cease abruptly.
Enter Pope Julius II, with Papal retinue carry-
ing torches. Murderer steps quickly back into
Pope [To body of Gaoler.]
Savonarola, I am come to taunt
Thee in thy misery and dire abjection.
Rise, Sir, and hear me out.
Murd. [Steps forward.]
Waste not thy breath. Savonarola's dead.
I murder 'd him.
Thou hadst no right to do so.
Who art thou, pray ?
Lucrezia's brother, and I claim a brother's
Right to assassinate whatever man
Shall wantonly and in cold blood reject
Her timid offer of a poison'd ring.
Of this anon.
[Stands over body of Gaoler.]
Our present business
Is general woe. No nobler corse hath ever
Impress'd the ground O let the trumpets speak it !
[Flourish of trumpets.]
This was the noblest of the Florentines.
His character was flawless, and the world
Held not his parallel. O bear him hence
With all such honours as our State can offer.
He shall interred be with noise of cannon,
As doth befit so militant a nature.
Prepare these obsequies.
[Papal officers lift body of Gaoler.]
A Papal Officer
But this is not
Savonarola. It is some one else.
Lo ! 'tis none other than the Fool that I
Hoof'd from my household but two hours agone.
I deem'd him no good riddance, for he had
The knack of setting tables on a roar.
What shadows we pursue ! Good night, sweet Fool,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest !
Interred shall he be with signal pomp.
No honour is too great that we can pay him.
He leaves the world a vacuum. Meanwhile,
Go we in chase of the accursed villain
That hath made escapado from this cell.
To horse ! Away ! We'll scour the country round
For Sav'narola till we hold him bound.
Then shall you see a cinder, not a man,
Beneath the lightnings of the Vatican !
[Flourish, alarums and excursions, flashes of
Vatican lightning, roll of drums, etc. Through
open door of cell is led in a large milk-white
horse, which the Pope mounts as the Curtain
Remember, please, before you formulate your
impressions, that saying of Brown's : ' The thing
must be judged as a whole.' I like to think that
whatever may seem amiss to us in these Four Acts
of his would have been righted by collation with
that Fifth which he did not live to achieve.
I like, too, to measure with my eyes the yawning
gulf between stage and study. Very different from
the message of cold print to our imagination are the
messages of flesh and blood across footlights to our
eyes and ears. In the warmth and brightness of a
crowded theatre ' Savonarola ' might, for aught one
knows, seem perfect. ' Then why,' I hear my gentle
readers asking, ' did you thrust the play on us, and
not on a theatrical manager ? '
That question has a false assumption in it. In
the course of the past eight years I have thrust
4 Savonarola ' on any number of theatrical managers.
They have all of them been (to use the technical
phrase) ' very kind.' All have seen great merits in
the work ; and if I added together all the various
merits thus seen I should have no doubt that
1 Savonarola ' was the best play never produced.
The point on which all the managers are unanimous
is that they have no use for a play without an
ending. This is why I have fallen back, at last, on
gentle readers, whom now I hear asking why I did
not, as Brown's literary executor, try to finish the
play myself. Can they never ask a question without
a false assumption in it ? I did try, hard, to finish
Artistically, of course, the making of such an
attempt was indefensible. Humanly, not so. It is
clear throughout the play — especially perhaps in
Acts III and IV — that if Brown had not steadfastly
in his mind the hope of production on the stage, he
had nothing in his mind at all. Horrified though
he would have been by the idea of letting me kill
his Monk, he would rather have done even this than
doom his play to everlasting unactedness. I took,
therefore, my courage in both hands, and made out
a scenario. . .
Dawn on summit of Mount Fiesole. Outspread
view of Florence (Duomo, Giotto's Tower, etc.) as seen
from that eminence. — Niccolo Machiatelli, asleep
on grass, wakes as sun rises. Deplores his exile from
Florence, Lorenzo's unappeasable hostility, etc.
Wonders if he could not somehow secure the Pope's
favour. Very cynical. Breaks off: But who are
these that scale the mountain-side ? | Savonarola
and Lucrezia | Borgia ! — Enter through a trap-door,
back c. [trap-door veiled from audience by a grassy
ridge], Sav. and Luc. Both gasping and footsore
from their climb. [Still, with chains on their wrists ?
or not?] — Mach. steps unobserved behind a cypress
and listens. — Sav. has a speech to the rising sun — Th'
effulgent hope that westers from the east | Daily.
Says that his hope, on the contrary, lies in escape To
that which easters not from out the west, | That
fix'd abode of freedom which men call | America !
Very bitter against Pope. — Luc. says that she, for her
part, means To start afresh in that uncharted land |
Which austers not from out the antipod, | Australia !
— Exit Mach., unobserved, down trap-door behind
ridge, to betray Luc. and Sav. — Several longish
speeches by Sav. and Luc. Time is thus given for
Mach. to get into touch with Pope, and time for Pope
and retinue to reach the slope of Fiesole. Sav.,
glancing down across ridge, sees these sleuth-hounds,
points them out to Luc. and cries Bewray'd ! Luc.
By whom ? Sav. I know not, but suspect | The
hand of that sleek serpent Niccolo | Machiavelli. —
Sav. and Luc. rush down c, but find their way barred
by the footlights. — Luc. We will not be ta'en | Alive.
And here availeth us my lore | In what pertains to
poison. Yonder herb | [points to a herb growing
down R.] Is deadly nightshade. Quick, Monk !
Pluck we it ! — Sav. and Luc. die just as Pope
appears over ridge, followed by retinue in full cry. —
Pope's annoyance at being foiled is quickly swept
away on the great wave of Shakespearean chivalry and
charity that again rises in him. He gives Sav. a
funeral oration similar to tlie one meant for him in
Act IV, but even more laudatory and more stricken.
O/Luc, too, he enumerates the virtues, and hints that
the whole terrestrial globe shall be hollowed to receive
her bones. Ends by saying : In deference to this
our double sorrow | Sun shall not shine to-day nor
shine to-morrow. — Sun drops quickly back behind
eastern horizon, leaving a great darkness on which the
Curtain slowly falls.
All this might be worse, yes. The skeleton
passes muster. But in the attempt to incarnate
and ensanguine it I failed wretchedly. I saw that
Brown was, in comparison with me, a master.
Thinking I might possibly fare better in his method
of work than in my own, I threw the skeleton into
a cupboard, sat down, and waited to see what
Savonarola and those others would do.
They did absolutely nothing. I sat watching
them, pen in hand, ready to record their slightest
movement. Not a little finger did they raise. Yet
I knew they must be alive. Brown had always told
me they were quite independent of him. Absurd
to suppose that by the accident of his own death
they had ceased to breathe. . . Now and then,
overcome with weariness, I dozed at my desk, and
whenever I woke I felt that these rigid creatures
had been doing all sorts of wonderful things while
my eyes were shut. I felt that they disliked me. I
came to dislike them in return, and forbade them
Some of you, my readers, might have better luck
with them than I. Invite them, propitiate them,
watch them ! The writer of the best Fifth Act
sent to me shall have his work tacked on to
Brown's ; and I suppose I could get him a free
pass for the second night.
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